Is This a Club Turkey Really Wants to Join?

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Bill Clinton will be pleased; so will Greece and even Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan — but being accepted as a candidate member of the European Union may be a mixed blessing for Turkey's leaders. The European Union voted Friday to accept Turkey as a candidate member, conditional on it's improving its human rights record and accepting the binding arbitration of the International Court of Justice at the Hague in its long-running dispute with Greece over Cyprus. "This is good news for the U.S. because Turkey is NATO's front line in relation to Russia and the Caucasus, and drawing them closer to Europe cements the West's security alliance with Ankara," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell.

But the very reasons that Ocalan has been pushing for Turkey to be admitted to the E.U. are those that will get Ankara nervous about Europe's decision. "The E.U.'s conditions will put enormous pressure on Turkey on a range of issues, such as Greece and the Kurds, that have been central to Turkish nationalism," says Dowell. To be sure, conforming to Europe's conditions may compel them to refrain from carrying out the death sentence a Turkish court handed down to Ocalan on multiple murder charges — the death penalty itself is in violation of E.U. human rights standards. Actual membership, then, may still be years away, but in the end it could prove to be a win-win proposition. "Although Europe is concerned about being flooded with cheap labor from Turkey, E.U. membership will dramatically raise living standards in Turkey," says Dowell. "And Turkey's strong civil society and dynamic economy in many ways makes it a more attractive candidate than many of the Eastern European countries also under consideration for E.U. membership."