Both the EU and Turkey woke up in a new era on the morning of 4 October. Following a marathon eleventh-hour negotiating session, the final hurdles for the launch of accession talks were cleared. As a result, Turkey now finds itself on what is likely a long, bumpy road towards membership, while the EU faces the prospect of new borders, with Syria, Iraq, Iran and Armenia as neighbours.
With Austria seeking a “privileged partnership” instead of full membership, and Turkey objecting to provisions related to Cyprus, it was unclear whether Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul would ever board his planned flight to Luxembourg. In the end, though, both sides were able to agree on terms. Under the deal, the negotiations are an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand. Turkey also committed itself to being fully anchored in the European structures through the strongest possible bond.
Turkish entry into the EU has potentially momentous implications for the bloc. With a population of 72 million, it would be the largest member state, with the largest number of votes in the European Council and the most deputies of any state in the European Parliament. The EU’s budget would come under considerable strain as it attempts to bring the country’s infrastructure, agriculture and administration up to EU levels. At the same time, Turkish membership would build a bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds. With the second biggest army in NATO and strategic reach into the Middle East, Turkey would bolster EU ambitions to become a serious player on the regional and world stage.
In Turkey, reactions to the last-minute deal were mixed. While the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hailed the “historic step”, the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) complained the Erdogan administration had failed to share sufficient details about the process and had accepted a tougher negotiating framework than that set out in the 17 December 2004.
The EU is treating Turkey differently from past candidates, said CHP leader Deniz Baykal: “We had already noted that the open-ended negotiations were never offered to any other candidate country. However, the government has done nothing to defend the country from the many wrongs forced onto Turkey since 17 December,” he said.
On the other hand, Motherland Party leader Erkan Mumcu expressed pleasure with the start of the talks, saying his party is ready to contribute to the process. True Path Party (DYP) leader Mehmet Agar also praised the government efforts, while recalling Turkey’s “red lines” over Cyprus.
For the government, joy is tempered with caution. “The real work has just begun,” said Erdogan. “Our EU path is not an easy one. There will be many difficulties, but I believe we will overcome them in time.”