The journey on the road from Ankara to Brussels is proving more difficult than many Turks would have hoped.
Obstacles still lie in the way but at least the first step has been taken. The fact that Turkey was willing to make concessions on issues of such fundamental importance is a measure of the country’s determination to join the EU. It is a process that began 40 years ago with the signing of an association agreement with the EU’s predecessor. That relationship will now be extended to the ten new member states who joined in May, including Cyprus. This was a measure Greek Cypriots had insisted on. They view it as recognition of statehood and crucial to any efforts to reach a final reconciliation between the two sides. For Turkey, it was the most painful concession to make. The prize is a fixed date for the start of accession talks: October 3 next year. The process will be open-ended but there is no certainty about when negotiations will conclude and no guarantees that the outcome will be the one the Turks want. The EU also claims the right to halt the negotiations if Turkey does not continue down the path to reform. Turkey has accepted, in principle, conditions not applied to previous candidates. These were intended to address concerns in the bloc about security and the cost of integrating such a vast and largely agriculutural country. Some states have expressed fears about a wave of poor immigrants. Prime Minister Erdogan lobbied hard against conditions Turkey considered discriminatory, such as a possible permanent emergency brake on the movement of labour. The final document did mention the possibility of derogations from the EU treaty or permanent safeguard clauses. But it spelled out this was not the same as permanent restrictions on freedom of movement. In the end it was a hard-struck bargain, throwing light on just how fraught the process of integrating Turkey into the EU family will be.