The moment of truth has come. The European Union must decide on December 17 whether to open accession talks with Turkey. Is today’s Union prepared to reverse a course first charted by such titans as Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer four decades ago?
When European Heads of State and Government concluded in 1999 that, “Turkey is a candidate state, destined to join the Union on the basis of the same criteria as applied to the other candidate States,” they did so in full knowledge of all the arguments for and against Turkish EU membership. The same is true for the decision they took three years later, when they promised to open negotiations, should they find in December 2004 that Turkey fulfils the political criteria and should this be recommended by the European Commission. The latter happened in October.
When offering its recommendation, the Commission highlighted Turkey’s progress, while indicating those areas where greater effort must be made. The Commission’s conclusions, however, were clear: it “considers that Turkey sufficiently fulfills the political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened.” Were Europe’s leaders to now balk at beginning accession talks with Turkey, they would not only contradict their own previous decisions; they would also be in clear breach of the Union’s repeated political commitments to Turkey.
By nature and design, these negotiations must be directed at accession. They are expected to be long and difficult. But there is a benefit in this for Turkey, as it will give it time to continue – and deepen – the transformation process already underway.