The EU Brussels summit of December 16-17, 2004 marked a historic turning point in Turkey’s long journey toward Europe. The European Council’s decision to start membership negotiations with Turkey on October 3, 2005 created
unprecedented optimism and hope in Turkey. The outcome of the summit is a major political victory for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP)government. It is truly remarkable that such
progress toward EU membership was made under the leadership of a conservative political party with Islamic roots. The symbolism of this achievement is a testament to the success of Turkish westernization.
Yet, it is too early to celebrate. The tormented saga of Turkey-EU relations is likely to continue in the near future. Ankara has yet to embark on the long and challenging accession process that may very well last a decade. In the short run, the most pressing problem
facing Turkey is the unresolved conflict over Cyprus. A very difficult compromise was reached on this issue in Brussels, only after Erdogan issued a statement of
intent to extend the 1963 Ankara protocol—the legal foundation of the relationship between Turkey and the EU—to cover the ten new members of the EU prior to October 3, 2005. Although Erdogan quickly declared that this should not be interpreted as an official
recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, the issue is likely to remain problematic as long as the island remains divided. The domestic opposition in Turkey is
already blaming Erdogan for accepting a date from the EU that is in effect conditional upon the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus.
Even if the Cyprus question is solved and accession negotiations start on schedule, there is no shortage of potential factors likely to complicate Turkey’s long
negotiation process. European public opinion, for one, is far from enthusiastic about embracing Turkish membership. The potential impact of Turkey’s large population and lower economic standards creates considerable nervousness among EU member states.
To the dismay of Ankara, such concerns found their place in the final communiqué of the Brussels summit, including “permanent safeguard” clauses likely to restrict free movement of people and structural aid policies in agriculture that will come into force once Turkey becomes a member. Perhaps more troubling is the fact that France and Austria have already promised their voters that referenda will be held prior to Turkey’s eventual membership. Finally, to the list of potential problems one can also add uncertainties about the final destination of Turkey’s membership negotiations with the EU. The Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in Germany, for instance, is adamantly opposed to the idea of Turkey’s full membership to the
EU and instead favors a “privileged partnership” with