Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he hopes accession talks with the European Union begin next year. He emphasized Turkey's progress in fulfilling reform requirements of the EU.
During Erdogan's talk before the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Wednesday afternoon, he recited a long list of economic and political reforms that he said showed Turkey was ready to enter into serious accession talks with the EU.
Those reforms included abolishing the death penalty, eliminating state security courts, adopting a "zero-tolerance policy" toward torture and reigning in the power of the military, which has seized power in Turkey several times in recent decades, "in conformity with democratic norms," he said.
He also said Turkey will join the International Criminal Court.
"We hope to bring a long-traveled road to its final lap with the initiation of accession negotiations in the first half of 2005," he told the parliamentary committee of the Council of Europe, a group formed in 1949 to promote human rights and democracy in Europe, but with no formal link to the EU.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, with EU Commission President Romano Prodi in Brussels
Erdogan added that he hoped that the accession talks would not drag on indefinitely, reflecting Turkey's frustration at its perception that the European bloc has been hinting at membership for decades but hardly moving in that direction.
"Turkish membership will not be achieved overnight," he said but added that his government expects to "conclude this phase within a reasonable amount of time."
A decade or more
While the EU's head office formally recommended in a report on Wednesday that talks begin with Turkey, EU heads of state will make the final decision at their Dec. 17 summit. But even if the decision is favorable to Turkey soon, officials have suggested negotiations could last a decade or more.
President Jacques Chirac of France, who is Hanoi, Vietnam where he will attend an Asia-Europe summit, said the process was only at the very beginning.
"If the European Commission decides in December to open those negotiations, everybody is aware that these negotiations could last at the minimum between 10 and 15 years," he told reporters.
Turkish men fish on the Galata Bridge in Istanbul, with the Ottoman era New Mosque in the background
Many Europeans, including some commissioners, have reservations about admitting Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim country of 71 million, to the EU.
Erdogan told reporters on Wednesday that has said he understands the concerns the European Commission might have about allowing Turkey to join, but added that he does not expect special treatment.
"We expect to be subject to the same rules and conditions as other candidates," he said.
In Germany, opinion was split on the recommendation by the European Commission that accession talks begin. Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, currently on a visit to India, said he welcomed the recommendation by the Commission and that Germany would vote yes at the December meeting.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was also positive about the Commission's report, saying the time frame of 10 to 15 years until actual membership was realistic.
However, conservative leader Angela Merkel of the Christian Democrats, was less enthusiastic, saying her party prefers offering Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership.
Germany industry and trade associations hailed the progress toward membership talks as a positive development. According to the Mannheim-based Center for European Economic Research, the German economy could benefit from Turkey's membership, especially since Turkey is a growth economy with strong strategic potential for German firms. In the first half of 2004, exports to Turkey increased by 50 percent.