This year is make-or-break for Turkish-EU relations. After forty years of being kept at arm's length--albeit with promises of an eventual full embrace--Turkey wants the EU to commit to beginning accession talks at its December summit. All the parties--Ankara, Brussels and Washington--know the deadline and the issues that need to be resolved for this to happen. But if at the end of this year Turkey does not receive a date to commence negotiations, the consequences could be severe. It could spell the end of the reform process in Turkey, severely damage the cohesion of the transatlantic alliance, and seriously jeopardize plans to implement the generational transformation of the Greater Middle East.
Turkey is understandably mistrustful of European Union pronouncements about "eventual" membership. Ever since the Ankara Agreement in 1963, when France's President Charles de Gaulle told the Turks that they deserved to join the EU queue, Turkey has been "next in line" to join Europe--even when other states have jumped ahead of them. The great fear is that once the Union increases its size to 25 member-states in 2004, enthusiasm for admitting further members will wane. Realistically, this could be the last round of enlargement for many years to come. Does Turkey deserve to wait another ten or 15 years to enter Europe together with, say, Albania and Bosnia?
The initial excitement over Turkey's Customs Union with the EU in 1995 was followed with a serious disappointment at the eu's 1997 Luxembourg summit, when Turkey was not given candidate status. In reaction to this perceived snub, Turkey cut off political dialogue with Brussels. Under strong pressure from the United States, and in recognition of Turkey's own progress in implementing reforms, Turkey was finally given candidate status at the 1999 Helsinki summit and promised that, once it met the so-called Copenhagen criteria, membership talks would commence.1