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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 May, 2004, 00:37 GMT 01:37 UK
Turkey edges toward EU goal
By Jonny Dymond
BBC correspondent in Ankara

There is something of a routine to visits by EU leaders to Turkey by now.

They come, make encouraging noises about the reform process, refer to the prospect of the country's eventual membership of the European Union, and then they go away again.

Police restrain a demonstrator in Istanbul
Turkey has tried to improve human rights as part of its EU entry bid
It could of course be worse. They might come and say what some of Europe's population so clearly feel - that Turkey has no place in the EU because, to be blunt, it is not part of Europe.

But instead, the only subject that comes up is Turkey's progress towards meeting the Copenhagen criteria - the democratic standards that are a prerequisite for membership negotiations to begin.

Over the last four years, the government has passed a series of constitutional and legal reforms that have, on paper, transformed the way that Turkey is governed.

The role of the military has been cut back. The death penalty abolished. Freedoms of speech and association bolstered. Education and broadcasting in languages other than Turkish permitted. Heavily criticised state security courts abolished.

Obsession

The list is long and impressive.

Little if any of this would have come about were it not for Turkey's obsession with EU entry.

Whereas once Turkey confronted criticism with a blast of rhetoric, the current government has moderated its tone
It is the single most important foreign policy the government has. It is the standard against which many seemingly unrelated events are measured.

It has driven through constitutional reforms. It forced the government to rethink and refashion its policy towards the divided island of Cyprus.

It has even changed the tone of relations with the outside world. Whereas once Turkey confronted criticism with a blast of rhetoric, the current government has moderated its tone.

Wind change

All of this is paying dividends. The wind certainly seems to be moving in Turkey's favour.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair reaffirmed Britain's support for Turkey's membership bid in unequivocal terms in Ankara.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder did the same - he was positive, if not quite as effusive, when he visited earlier this year.

Turkey has concerns about the attitude of France. But analysts believe that a recent invitation by the President Jacques Chirac to the Turkish prime minister to visit is unlikely to have been made if French opposition has not softened.

Wiggle room

Much hangs on the report of the European Commission expected late this year.

If it gives Turkey a clean bill of health then the leaders of the member states will have little wiggle room to block the country's movement towards membership come December.

No one in the Turkish government is taking success for granted, but Turkey seems closer than ever to achieving its European ambitions.


SEE ALSO:
Turkey 'is acid test for Europe'
23 Mar 04  |  Politics
Greece 'will back Turkey EU bid'
07 May 04  |  Europe


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