“Let’s start talking!” That is what the European Union is poised to say to Turkey, which hopes its long stay in the wealthy bloc’s waiting room is coming to an end. In what would be an historic decision, EU leaders appear near to a consensus on saying “yes” to fixing a date for accession talks to begin. The Turkish premier, however, has made clear that he will not accept an offer to start negotiations on any terms. Ankara insists it should be treated no differently from other candidates.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also warned that the European Union would be making a mistake if it limits its identity to Christians. Turkey is an overwhelmingly Muslim country. He will have taken comfort from a televised interview given by the French president in which Jacques Chirac said Turkish membership would be in the best interests of France and Europe. He did stress however that negotiating does not mean membership. “It means that Turkey must still make considerable efforts that will last 10, 15, 20 years,” he said. Another encouraging sign for Turkey came courtesy of the European Parliament, which yesterday voted in favour of a motion calling for talks to start. It urged that this be done “without undue delay.” Several key issues remain unresolved, such as Turkey’s failure to recognize Cyprus, but it seems increasingly likely that Ankara has made the grade to be considered for EU membership.