Turkey's forty year march towards Europe (An Overview)
Ankara (AsiaNews) The European Commission's report on Turkey's progress toward European Union (EU) membership will be unveiled in Brussels tomorrow. If the report's recommendations are favourable, the next step in Turkey's eventual entry will be the upcoming European Council, to be held on December 17. The Council's 25 member states will decide whether to begin talks with Ankara on its EU accession.
The first official ties between Europe and Turkey date back to 1964. Forty years ago the old European Economic Community (EEC) and the Turkish government signed an 'Association Agreement' creating a commercial union between the two parties. Implementation was expected to be done in three stages and take 13 years.
A new protocol was signed in 1970 establishing a new timetable of measures in which both parties offered each other concessions in the areas of industrial goods (to be realised by 1982) and agricultural products (1992). However, the economic difficulties Turkey faced in the 1970s prevented the accord from being implemented.
Negotiations between the two sides restarted in 1980 but came to halt in September of that year when the Turkish military staged a coup. In 1986 they started again but this time under the shadow cast by a rising anti-European Islamic party. In 1987, Turkey applied for full EU membership. Brussels's first answer came in 1989 and was evasive, but since it was not an outright refusal then Turkish president Ozal saw it as a positive step.
In 1999 Turkey was officially accepted as a candidate for EU membership. But the turning point came in 2002 when Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of the Moderate Islamic 'Justice and Development Party' (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi or AKP) ran and won the elections on a platform of reforms and modernisation. One of his key policy objectives was Turkey's entry into Europe by 2012. According to Turkish Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan, his country can meet the Maastricht criteria within five years.
Turkey has 70 million inhabitants, 99 per cent Muslim. Christians represent 0.6 per cent of the population with some 30,000 Catholics.
This year the economy is expected to grow by 7.9 per cent with inflation running at 25.3 per cent. Unemployment stands at 10.5 per cent (2003 data).