EMBARGO 6 SEPTEMBER 2004
More than forty years ago, Turkey applied for associate membership of the European Economic Community. With the Association agreement of 1963, a special relationship was established, culminating in the customs union of 1996. During all these years, European governments consistently confirmed Turkey's eligibility for full membership, making accession dependent on compliance with membership criteria.
Turkey's formal recognition as a candidate state in 1999 led Turkey to undertake unprecedented reform efforts in the area of human and minority rights, including abolition of the death penalty, safeguards against torture, promotion of religious freedoms, gender equality, and restriction of the military's role in political life. Should the EU consider the accession criteria as having been fulfilled, it must decide to open negotiations in early 2005. Not to do so would mean to renege on political commitments and to severely damage the EU's credibility in the world.
In many parts of Europe, however, Turkey's admission to the EU is viewed with skepticism owing to its size, relatively poor economy, fears of massive immigration, and, above all, cultural and societal differences - a euphemism for Islam. It would be foolish to deny that some of these factors represent serious challenges. However, they are often exaggerated and certainly not insurmountable. Negotiations with Turkey would be lengthy and accession may not occur before 2015. This period of time would offer both Turkey and the Union an opportunity to come to terms.