Straddling two continents, Turkey has long aspired to join the European Union. Egged on by the fact that ten countries mostly from former communist East Europe will become part of the EU next year, Ankara has instituted a number of sweeping political and economic reforms over the past year.
But Wednesday’s report by the European Commission noted although the country had made progress on new laws regarding human rights and other reforms, implementation of the legislation was still spotty. Turkey hopes to win the right to start accession negotiations when EU leaders take stock of the country’s progress in December 2004.
“The deciding question is whether Turkey delivers convincing proof in the next eight to ten months that it has seriously changed,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen told the online service of Der Spiegel magazine. “It will depend on whether the reforms become reality and are not just on paper.”
But criticism of the reform pace at home was not what riled the Turks the most about the report. Instead it was the mention of the difficult issue of Cyprus, which will join the EU next year.
Specifically, Brussels said the failure to reunite the divided island, of which Turkey occupies the northern third, could present a “serious obstacle” to Ankara’s bid to become part of the European bloc. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had made a furious last ditch diplomatic push on Tuesday night to keep Cyprus out of the report but failed.
Turkey invaded the northern part of the island in 1974 to head off plans by the Greek-dominated government to make Cyprus part of Greece, but the Turkish part is only recognized by Ankara. After the report’s release, Ankara took a more conciliatory line.
“We all want a solution to the Cyprus problem. We will make a great effort to solve the problem before May 1, 2004," Gul told reporters, according to the Reuters news agency.
The United Nations has blamed the stalled peace talks on Cyprus on the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. The row over Cyprus has overshadowed the EU’s support for the Turkish reform process recently accelerated by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
“Some of the reforms carry great political significance as they impinge on sensitive issues in the Turkish context, such as freedom of expression, freedom of demonstration, cultural rights and civilian control over the military,” the report said.
Besides addressing a potential Turkish candidacy, the EU report on Wednesday looked at the progress of the ten countries set to join the bloc next year. The Commission said the perspective members – especially laggard Poland – still had plenty of work to do and all needed to redouble their efforts ahead of accession in May.
Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus and Malta will all become part of the EU next spring. Romania and Bulgaria hope to join in 2007.