In December 1997 the EU made a grave error when it closed the door on Turkey's EU ambitions by failing to grant it candidate status along with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This decision understandably provoked a great deal of hostility towards the EU from across Turkish society and effectively put a stop to political dialogue in a wide range of important areas including human rights and political reform.
By recognising Turkey's European identity and welcoming it into the European family, the EU has not only redrawn the political map of Europe but also erased an enmity between Turk and Christendom that dates from the Crusades.
The question now is how Turkey reacts to this momentous decision. Turkey will need to mobilise as a nation behind a major programme of democratic reform which will impact upon on every level of Turkish society. It will also have to come to terms with the fact that European politicians, human rights groups and other agencies will expect to have an increasing role to play in this important process.
The euphoria in Turkey in the aftermath of Helsinki is being tempered by the realisation that the road to final EU membership will be long and difficult. However, the decisions taken at this summit mark the dawn of a new era of partnership and co-operation between Turkey and Europe.
Institute for Turkish European Relations
London N1Reuse content