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Europe

Opinion: EU and Turkey Take Historic Step

The EU's wrangling over the negotiation framework with Turkey over accession has finally reached a happy conclusion. DW's Baha Güngör heaves a big sigh of relief.

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Turkey's boat has finally come in

Monday was to have marked the official launch of landmark entry talks with Turkey. But as the day approached, it seemed more and more unlikely that the negotiations would go ahead as scheduled. Chief among the trouble-makers was Austria, which insisted that talks with Turkey could only begin if accession negotiations were also opened with Croatia.

But then, contrary to all expectations, a last-ditch deal was reached after two days of tense debate -- salvaging, just in the nick of time, the EU's reputation as a sturdy super-structure able to take the heat.

Strategic decision

Türkische Fahnen: Beitritt Türkei und EU

The long-awaited start of Turkey's entry talks represents an historic step for the EU, and a key reinforcement of its security interests in a strategic region. While Turkey once guarded Europe's south-eastern border as a member of NATO during the Cold War era, it now occupies a key position within the Middle East conflict belt.

The ultimate aim of the talks is, inevitably, Turkish accession, but entry is by no means in the bag. It will be years before the decision is taken whether or not to allow a politically, economically and socially transformed Turkey to join the EU as a full member. For the time being, piling on the pressure is counterproductive -- all it will do is fan the flames of anti-EU sentiment within this mainly Muslim country.

And the Turkish population's reservations about too hasty a move towards the EU are just as understandable as Europe's wariness of Turkey. The country is well aware it still has many obstacles to weather, and it will be years before its vast regional disparities can start to narrow. It's a problem Europe has experienced itself -- and nowhere more painfully than Germany, a country that has been trying to breach the gap between east and west for the last 15 years, and paying a heavy cost in the process.

EU compatibility

But Turkey will also have to prove it is EU-compatible when it comes to democracy, human rights, the Armenian question and the Kurdish conflict -- which will include demonstrating belief in European values in its approach to problem-solving.

Sorting out Cyprus is another challenge Turkey faces, and will be a key test of its willingness to compromise.

Turkey will have to adopt 35 chapters of EU law, and that means every single EU member state has 35 veto opportunities, since every chapter has to be unanimously agreed.

Österreich EU-Beitrittsverhandlungen Türkei Außenminister Ursula Plassnik

Austria's Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik

Austria's shenanigans over the last few days are more than likely to be repeated by one country or another, sooner or later. The risk of failure is acute given that every member state will have to ratify Turkey's entry agreement, some of which by referendum.

After its speedy intake of eight new eastern European countries last year, which it's still belly-aching about, the EU now has another set of problems to deal with. At least it realized in time that it wouldn't have been fair to vent its frustration on Turkey.

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