In an entirely predictable move – especially after Tayyip Erdogan clever manoeuvring - the EU commission today decided to recommend that accession negotiations with Turkey should begin. The final decision rests with the European Council on 17 December but the result is a foregone conclusion and the talks are expected to start in the second half of 2005, under the UK presidency.
However, as always with the EU, nothing is ever what it seems and this is very much the case here. It is expected that the "negotiations" will take 10-15 years and, of course, they can be suspended at any time if Turkey is thought to have drifted too far away from the "European values" to which she is supposed to subscribe in order to join the club.
The commission’s response, therefore, is "yes" but, in the words of Prodi, who announced the decision to the European parliament in Strasbourg, "it is a qualified yes."
Even then, if Turkey is eventually allowed to join, the talk is that there will be prolonged transition period, with restrictions on the free movement of labour and delays on integration into the CAP and structural funds – if they still exist by then.
Nevertheless, the commission’s decision was not unanimous, being opposed by Frits Bolkestein and Pascal Lamy, the latter reflecting his government’s concern at Turkish entry, where Chirac has already announced his intention to hold a referendum before he agrees to allowing Turkey to join.
The UK is one of the countries enthusiastically supporting entry, an enthusiasm which has cross-party support. Tory foreign affairs spokesman, Michael Ancram, on BBC lunch time news observed that the opposition to Turkey’s entry came from those countries which favoured deeper political integration. The UK, on the other hand, saw Turkish entry as more likely to force the transition of the EU to a looser trading block.
Certainly, in taking on a 70 million, mainly Moslem population – becoming the second-largest country after Germany - the EU would be fundamentally changed. Many doubt that the EU could, in fact, survive in its present form, even if it survives the current round of enlargement, with Rumania and Bulgaria also expected to join in 2007.
No wonder some senior politicians in Europe are suffering from a prolonged bout of Turkey trots.