Is Turkey Ready for Europe?

Courtesy Reuters


Last December, the EU's leaders formally agreed to expand their union in 2004 from 15 to 25 members -- a historic broadening of one of the world's most exclusive clubs. Europe's politicians also set a schedule under which two more countries, Bulgaria and Romania, would be brought into the fold three years later.

During the months leading up to the December decision, Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- leader of Turkey's Justice and Development Party, which won control of Turkey's parliament in November -- energetically toured Europe's capitals, urging EU leaders to include his nation in their expansion plans and to set a definite date to begin accession talks. Ankara's lobbying got strong backing from Washington: President George W. Bush even made a personal telephone call to the EU's then president, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to make the case. After much debate, however, when the EU announced its decision at a summit in Copenhagen in December, Turkey was turned down. Instead of offering a concrete date, the EU's leaders, in somewhat Delphic language, merely promised that if Turkey fulfilled the so-called Copenhagen criteria on human rights and democracy by December 2004, accession talks could then begin "without further delay."

By waffling, Brussels in effect managed to push down the road what has become a fundamental debate on the continent: should Turkey ever be admitted to the EU? Brussels' ambivalence reflected what has become the position of many of Europe's individual leaders -- an attitude that can best be described as "yes-but." Many of Europe's politicians now seem willing to recognize Turkey as an official candidate -- but only once it becomes more like them. This means greater respect for human rights and a reduced role in government affairs for Turkey's military. And it also means that Ankara must demonstrate sustained economic growth, enough to minimize the flood of Turkish emigration that many fear will result from its admission to the EU.

Some European leaders have also expressed darker concerns about Turkey. Most

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