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Turkey Sobers Up After EU Dream

Dorian Jones, IstanbulDecember 18, 2004

Brussels’ announcement of a date to start EU membership talks comes as a relief to Tukey, after the issue of Cyprus threatened to derail negotiations. After the initial celebration, the doubts and worries are setting in.

After the celebration, questions and doubts still remainImage: AP

The eyes and ears of the Turkish people were firmly tuned to Brussels this past week, with the main television channels and newspapers providing blanket coverage of the European Union summit. Much was at stake for the primarily Muslim nation of 70 million people on the fringe of Europe, and anything less than a definite “yes” vote from the 25 EU leaders could have spelled the end of Turkey’s dreams of gaining entry into the illustrious bloc.

Up until the last minute, everything seemed possible, especially after the Turkish delegation appeared on the verge of walking out over EU demands that Ankara recognize the Greek Cypriot government, which became a member in May 2004.

Deniz Baykal, the leader of the main opposition People’s Republican Party, was one of the most critical voices. “The European Union is demanding that Turkey recognize the Greek Cypriot government as a precondition to starting accession talks. If Turkey agrees on that, then all the decades of struggle and effort will be erased,” he said leading up to Friday’s historic announcement.

Galerie Türkei Bosporus Brücke
Turkey sees itself as a bridge between Europe and the Middle EastImage: AP

But even if such criticisms are likely to resonate within sections of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party and he has difficulty persuading opponents that he is not sacrificing the Turkish Cypriot community for Ankara’s EU aspirations, the majority of the population is breathing a sigh of relief now that an agreement has been reached and a date set for accession talks to begin.

Looking ahead

International relations expert Soli Ozel said securing a date for EUU membership talks was of crucial importance to Turkey, both politically and economically. “The start of accession negotiations is basically a seal of approval on the fact that Turkey is not only eligible, but is ready as a very stable country to take on a role in which it can actually fulfil its maximum economic potential,” he said.

“There are no longer any questions about the path Turkey is on.”

Indeed one of the first offshoots of the deal in Brussels was that the Turkish stock market soared to a record level once news of the accession agreement reached the market floor just before closing.

EU Türkei Plakat in Ankara
A Turkish woman walks past a billboard showing the Turkish flag blending with EU flag. The billboard says "this star will go very well here."Image: AP

In Taksim Square at the heart of Istanbul, similar feelings of optimism abounded, although less outright, and more tempered by the reality of the long road ahead. It will be at least 10 years before Turkey is ready for the European Union and the average citizen is unlikely to profit much until then.

Akif Emre, a Turkish columnist for the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper said the coming years will be a testing time for both Turkey and the European Union. “They are both about to embark on a unique experiment,” he said.

“Now that the European Union accepts Turkey it means we will live together as partners, but we will have different values. The European Union has different values from us – this is a historic testing,” he said.

“I am not sure Turkey and the European Union will pass the exam. There are so many difficult ways in front of us,” he added.