At the Gates of Europe

Europe's leaders met at the end of last week for a summit focused on expanding the European Union. As expected, Turkey was left out - again.

Europe's leaders met at the end of last week for a summit focused on expanding the European Union. As expected, Turkey was left out - again. Not only wasn't the subject of Turkey's candidacy discussed by the leaders, they didn't even set a target date for opening talks about Turkey joining the EU.

For more than 40 years Turkey has been knocking on Europe's gates. Conversations with Volkan Vural, Turkey's Secretary General for European Affairs and other senior officials in Ankara, as well as at the European Commission, shows just how emotional both sides have become about the matter. If they were to hold a direct conversation, it would sound something like this:

Ankara: If your promises had been translated into money, we'd be a rich country now. We've waited long enough. It's time to keep the promises.

Brussels: Time was never one of the conditions for joining the EU. Despite the fact that Israel, for example, was one of the first to recognize the European Community in 1958, nobody in Europe thanks tghat gives it a ticket to join.

Ankara: Unlike Israel, we belong to Europe, geographically and historically.

Brussels: Only 4 percent of your territory is in Europe. Besides, if we add you to the union, we'll find on the other side of our new borders troublesome countries like Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Ankara: We've met the reform targets you set for us. In August we canceled the death penalty and the prohibition on learning and broadcasting in Kurdish, and we've widened freedom of speech and the freedom of association.

Brussels: The test of the reforms is in their implementation. Beyond that, you've yet to solve the problem of the military's involvement in political life, something no Western democracy can tolerate.

Ankara: We're the only country in the Muslim world that managed to integrate Islam and a secular-democratic regime. The military's role is to protect that formula. Our entry to the union will accelerate the democraticization process. Rejecting us will strengthen the nationalist and fundamentalist strains. These matters are very important on the eve of our elections, on November 3.

Brussels: The possibility of a `second Iran' does disturb us, but entry to Europe is not meant to solve the inherent problems of the candidates for joining. Europe is the cherry on the cake, not the cake. Turkey must complete its reforms. Only then can it be accepted.

Ankara: If we join the EU, one of the longest conflicts Europe has known will be solved, namely, Cyprus. If you reject us and at the same time accept the Greek side of the island, the strategic balance will be disrupted in the Mediterranean. The northern half of Cyprus will be annexed to us, and the island will remain divided forever. Europe will for the first time have to deal with what it calls `occupied territory' inside its own borders.

Brussels: This is a matter of the chicken and the egg. Good will and positive steps taken immediately to solve the Cyprus question in peaceful ways will bring you closer to Europe.

Ankara: We're tired of your excuses. You simply aren't ready for a psychological process that means turning the EU into a multi-cultural body.

Brussels: Frankly, it is a difficult problem. We have to be attentive to the mood of our public who fear the continent will be flooded by immigrants and mosques. September 11 may have deepened those fears. Nonetheless it also had the opposite effect: we're all aware of your strategic importance and the model you can serve for the Muslim world. If the results of the upcoming elections strengthen the positive forces for reform and the Cyprus question, it will reduce the number of Europeans who still regard Turkish entry to the EU as a nightmare. In any case, you'll have to be patient, since there's no chance you'll be admitted in the coming decade or immediately afterward.

Ankara: By then it might be too late.