Turkey's chief negotiator for European Union membership said Wednesday that Turkey would be the EU's engine of growth when it joined the bloc. "Turkey is on a road that will lead much faster to its becoming a country suiting its potential and riches," Ali Babacan said.
Ali Babacan, who also holds the post of economy minister, said at a press conference that in opening negotiations with Turkey on Oct. 3, the EU had taken a step toward becoming a global power with healthy relations with the Islamic world.
Turkey would be the EU's first majority-Muslim member country and with a rapidly growing population of 70 million could become its largest member.
The country's membership negotiations are expected to take a decade or more, and Turkey's negotiations mandate specifies that membership cannot be guaranteed.
Babacan admitted that negotiations would take time, but said Turkey had passed "a point of no return" and difficult reforms to harmonize with EU norms would continue.
"There are points of no return, and Turkey has passed these. Turkey is a big country, and we have to be aware that on some subjects it will take time to achieve harmony," he said.
The government will also have a public relations challenge both inside and outside Turkey during the negotiations, Babacan said.
"For domestic public opinion, during the EU process it will be necessary to constantly explain what we are doing and why we are doing it," he said. "As for international communication, more work needs to be done so that Turkey is more accurately perceived in EU member countries."
Polls show that the majority of EU citizens are against letting in the large, poor and culturally different country, but Turks and some European leaders have been arguing that Turkey will provide dynamism and growth to an aging, slow-growing Europe.
Those in favor of Turkey's membership also hope that European reservations will turn to enthusiasm as Turkey enacts reforms over the coming decade.
"When the membership process is finished, that is, when all 35 items of the negotiations are completed, Turkey will be a very different country," Babacan said.