Courtesy Reuters

Turkey's Dream of Democracy

THE RULES OF THE GAME

Turkey today stands at a crossroads. Few other moments in the 77-year history of the Turkish republic have been so decisive. In the coming weeks, its parliament will begin to consider the "accession partnership document" recently presented to it by the European Union. The document is a road map for the far-reaching economic and political reforms Turkey must enact if it is to join the EU. Actual membership negotiations between Ankara and Brussels cannot begin until these reforms are implemented, which both parties hope will happen before 2004. But if Turkey expects to meet that deadline, it will need to start acting fast.

Less than a year ago in Helsinki, Finland, the EU finally decided to accept Turkey's candidacy for membership. The Turks were overjoyed. Since 1987, all of their previous applications to join the EU had been rejected. For 12 years, Turkey had complained that as a Muslim nation, it was being discriminated against by an exclusively Christian club. The Europeans had countered that democratic and economic deficiencies in Turkey's institutions and practices disqualified it from membership. If Ankara really wanted to join, Brussels instructed, it should start taking steps to meet the union's many requirements.

Then, at the December 1999 Helsinki meeting, the EU softened its stance and dropped its preconditions. The reasons for this about-face were several. Thanks to a thaw in bilateral relations, Greece had finally lifted its veto. And Turkey was too important a player on the international chessboard to be ignored. Bordering the oil fields of the Middle East, at the edge of the ex-Soviet Turkic republics of the Caucasus and Central Asia (some of which are also rich in oil), and linked through its Ottoman past to the Balkans, Turkey has huge potential to play a stabilizing role in a turbulent region. Moreover, in the economic domain, Turkey had intensified its lucrative commercial and financial ties with Europe and had come to be considered one of the world's ten most promising emerging markets

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