Decision time

THE visit of European Commission chief Romano Prodi has understandably been given a mixed reception by the Turkish Press. By the end of this year, European Union leaders are due to address the question of Turkey's membership and take a final decision on the issue.

It is only natural therefore that, between now and December, every move or statement by senior EU officials will be closely scrutinised by Turkish policymakers and commentators for signs of progress, or lack of it. For the last several years, the mood in Ankara has alternated between hope and despair in tandem with each new development in the country's relationship with the European Union. Considering the amount of efforts made by Turkey since 1999 to meet the group's demands halfway and the fact that Prodi was the first EU head to visit the country since Ankara signed an association agreement with the European Economic Community in 1963, Prodi's visit should have boosted hopes at least for a date for negotiations on the accession process. But the EC chief went out of his way to temper his hosts' expectations with realism, telling Turkey's parliamentarians on Thursday that Europe's public opinion is not unanimous in welcoming the country into the club because of its predominantly Muslim faith and large population (70 million). Prodi may have been brutally frank but that is not sufficient. The onus of removing Europeans' misgivings and prejudices is on EU leaders, and if they have proved unequal to the task then Turkey should not be penalised for it. The world is looking at the EU's treatment of Turkey as a benchmark against which to judge the club's progress in the crucial area of religious and cultural inclusiveness. The EU has been generous enough to allow into its fold a large number of central and east European states while keeping Turkey's application on hold for its failure to meet specific membership criteria. Now that almost all these conditions have been met by Ankara, it is time to undo the injustice and integrate Turkey into the Union.

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