At their final summit meeting for the year, held in Brussels on Dec. 16 and 17, 2004, leaders of the European Union reached a historic agreement to begin official negotiations with Turkey on that country's bid for full membership in the EU.
If negotiations are successful, Turkey would become the EU's first Muslim country. Since a sizable portion of Turkey is also outside the traditional geographic scope of Europe, the Brussels decision is viewed by some political observers as setting the stage for a new phase in EU development.
For those living beyond the borders of Europe, the question of Turkish membership in the EU may seem a distant and trivial issue. But Bible prophecy suggests that it could be the first step in radically changing Europe's present relationship with the rest of the world.
No real appetite for Turkey since 1963
Turkey's relationship with what became the European Union began in 1963 when Turkey was granted "associated" status, which provided it preferential trade status and other benefits. Turkey first applied for full EU membership in 1987. However, a number of issues repeatedly blocked progress toward official negotiations. Among them were Turkey's occasionally unstable political system and its human rights record, which were deemed incompatible with European standards.
However, the EU repeatedly indicated its willingness to begin official talks on membership, provided Turkey continued its internal reform process. For example, Turkey announced two years ago that it would no longer carry out the death penalty, one of the prerequisites for EU membership (no EU member country has a death penalty).
Despite the undeniable progress Turkey has made in adopting European standards, the possibility of Turkey becoming a full member makes many EU leaders and citizens nervous. An interesting dichotomy has emerged between some EU leaders and their citizens, especially in France and Germany. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have been quite vocal—individually and jointly—in supporting Turkey's bid for EU membership.
However, public opinion polls in both France and Germany have repeatedly shown that a majority in both countries opposes Turkey's admission into the EU, largely over concerns about the effect that Turkish membership might have on European institutions and culture.
French publicist Sylvie Goulard's critical essay on the EU's expansion policy toward Turkey, titled "The Great Turk and the Republic of Venice," sold out its first printing within one week of publication in mid-October 2004. Just one week prior to the Brussels conference, Germany's opposition parties published an open letter to Chancellor Schroeder, urging him to reconsider his position on Turkish membership.
The Lutheran Church in Germany questions Turkey's human rights record toward its non-Muslim citizens. And further concern in Germany was fueled recently by a report of the independent Institute for Eastern Europe debunking the claim that Turkish EU membership would be an economic benefit for the EU.
Senior European statesmen Helmut Schmidt and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing also are well-known critics of Turkish EU membership. Merely three months before the summit, former German Chancellor Schmidt urged caution on admitting Turkey into the EU. He argued that Europe needs a lengthy consolidation period to absorb increased financial obligations arising from having admitted 10 new countries as EU members on May 1, 2004 (Die Zeit, No. 39, Sept. 16, 2004).
Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president, frequently expresses his view that Turkish membership would mean the end of full political union as the ultimate EU goal. Instead, the EU would become an enhanced free-trade zone.
Drama in Brussels
In the days leading up to the Brussels conference, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan was busily promoting his country's bid for EU membership. In his public relations effort, Erdogan emphasized that if the EU "wants to be a power and play an important role in the world, then the path will lead through Turkey" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dec. 17, 2004).
In a personal appeal to the German people published in Bild, the largest circulation daily newspaper in Germany, Erdogan emphasized the importance of Turkey's geographic location at the center of Eurasia with historic ties to the Balkans, the Caucasian region, Central Asia and the Middle East. He also rejected claims that Turkish EU membership would become a financial burden on the EU budget.
The two-day summit meeting in Brussels had its share of drama. On the first day the talks on beginning negotiations with Turkey started well. The Turkish prime minister had earlier emphasized his country's intention to continue its reform path and to modernize its institutions.
Turkey accepted wording in the proposed contract on negotiations that would give the EU the right to restrict certain aspects of full membership for Turkey, depending on the course of negotiations and other developments in the coming years.
If used, this provision will most likely be invoked to limit the "freedom of mobility" clause that guarantees citizens of EU member states the right to live and work anywhere within the European Union. Since surveys have shown that up to 25 percent of the Turkish work force would consider moving to Western Europe in search of higher paying jobs, the limitation would help assuage German and French resistance to Turkish membership.
Talks nearly broke down during a lengthy evening session lasting well into the night when Prime Minister Erdogan refused to accept an EU demand that his country establish diplomatic relations with Cyprus as a prerequisite for starting official negotiations on Turkish membership.
Part of Cyprus is still occupied by Turkish troops 30 years after Turkish intervention on the island and the withdrawal of the Turkish Cypriot community from the joint government with Greek Cypriots.
Cyprus was one of the 10 countries that joined the EU in May 2004, after the EU determined that the application for membership submitted by the island's government in 1990 represented the entire island.
When Prime Minister Erdogan reportedly threatened to leave Brussels over the impasse, a compromise was reached. Turkey agreed to work toward full diplomatic recognition of Cyprus before the official negotiations commence on Oct. 3, 2005. With his tactics, Erdogan "undermined the basic prerequisite for any newcomer joining a community—that the newcomer unconditionally accepts all existing members" (Die Welt, Dec. 18, 2004).
Will negotiations be successful?
Negotiations on Turkish membership in the EU may last for 10 years or longer, and the start of negotiations is no guarantee that they will be concluded successfully. If they are successful, all current EU members must approve the final treaty stipulating the conditions for full Turkish membership. France and Austria have already announced that a referendum will be held so their citizens can decide how their countries should vote on the issue. Other countries may follow their example.
French President Jacques Chirac has already indicated that the proposed referendum in France on Turkish membership would be held separately from any other EU referendum issue. Next June, France will vote in a referendum on whether to accept the new European Constitution, and Chirac is a shrewd enough practitioner of "realpolitik" to realize that coupling a referendum on EU membership for Turkey with any other issue would likely mean the defeat of both.
The violent reaction in the Netherlands to November's assassination of Dutch movie director Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam by a Muslim extremist shows how easily a referendum could be influenced by unexpected developments.
Turkey's goal is to be part of the European Union. What other goals might a country have that is geographically closer to Cairo than to Brussels and that is Muslim but not Arab?
Hassan Fatah, columnist for The New Republic, wonders whether Turkish foreign policy under Prime Minister Erdogan reflects the desire to be the leader of the Muslim world. As evidence for his musings, Fatah sees "the dramatic change in Turkey's position toward Israel. For a long time Turkey was Israel's reliable Islamic partner in the region, buying arms worth three billion dollars from Israel in the 1990s that were largely used against the Kurdish insurgency. Since Erdogan took office relations have reached a low point with Turkey joining the choir of Arab criticism of Israel, which Israel views as being anti-Semitic" (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Dec. 17, 2004).
Interestingly, following PLO chairman Yasser Arafat's death, prominent Palestinian leaders have wondered whether the Turkish model of a Muslim country with a democratic, secular state government could be the role model for their people.
If Fatah is correct in his analysis, then Turkish ambitions may well coincide with EU ambitions, even if some EU citizens remain wary of full membership for Turkey. Europe's leaders "want to expand EU power into Eastern Europe and the Near East... to expand the EU as quickly as possible, [and therefore] the heads of state and government display understanding for every wish of the Turkish government" (Die Welt, Dec. 18, 2004).
How would adding the Muslim country of Turkey, with its capable and efficient military forces, affect EU relations with the greater international community, especially in the Middle East?
God gave a troubling dream to King Nebuchadnezzar of ancient Babylon and then allowed the prophet Daniel to interpret that dream (Daniel 2). The dream covered some major events that would occur in the Middle East and Europe from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar until the return of Jesus Christ to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
Four great empires would dominate those regions of the world—Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome—all represented in that dream by one imposing image of a man (verses 31-33). A revived version of the Roman Empire, represented by the image's feet and toes, is prophesied to come to power shortly before Christ returns (verses 41-45). The legacy of Imperial Rome—still very much the heritage of Europe—will supply the model for that end-time power's reach for glory.
This final resurrection of the Roman Empire, like the original empire, will be centered in Europe. It appears that it can be seen today in its embryonic form in the European Union. That is not to say that all current EU nations will be part of the final configuration, but those that choose to participate will combine to form a powerful military force. Like ancient Rome, it is destined to push its power into the Middle East, subduing Jerusalem and the modern nation of Israel (Daniel 11:41-45 Daniel 11:41-45  He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.
 He shall stretch forth his hand also on the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape.
 But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.
 But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.
 And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
American King James Version×).
Jesus Christ gave this warning: "When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near... They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:20 Luke 21:20And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is near.
American King James Version×, 24, New International Version).
Could Europe's increasing alliance that backs nations and peoples hostile to Israel, coupled with its growing economic and political power, be nudging it further along the road toward becoming a modern version of the Roman Empire, extending its power and control even into the Middle East and northern Africa?
Turkey, as was Asia Minor in ancient times, is a bridge to empire. This fascinating country straddles two continents, Europe and Asia. It is where east meets west. Through its doors conquerors have come and gone, and will rise again. To learn more about the roles that Europe and the Middle East will have in fulfilling Bible prophecy, request or download your free copy of our booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy. WNP