The 25-member EU government said the 10-to-15-year negotiation process starting Oct. 3, 2005 would be open-ended, with no guaranteed outcome, and might force Turkey to settle for a second-class membership with permanent curbs on the migration of Turkish workers to western Europe, according to Bloomberg news.
The landmark deal came after hours of wrangling between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, mainly over Cyprus, which entered the EU in May.
Turkey pledged to sign a protocol extending its EU association agreement to the 10 new member states, including Cyprus, before it starts entry negotiations. But the text would be adapted to take into account the unique situation on the divided island.
Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 and occupies the northern part of the island. The southern, Greek republic joined the EU alone after rejecting a United Nations-sponsored unification plan that had the backing of the Turkish Cypriots.
The accord to expand the EU into Asian territory almost unraveled when Erdogan balked at EU demands that Turkey first end its diplomatic standoff with Cyprus.
"The only thing we ask for is recognition," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said, according to Bloomberg. "It's normal when somebody joins the family you recognize all the members of the family. But that can be done in different manners."
Erdogan said full diplomatic recognition for Cyprus was a "red line" he wouldn't cross. Turkey's main opposition party is against recognition, as is the military, which has 30,000 troops in northern Cyprus.
The admission process will force Turkey to make broad changes to its economy, society and authoritarian political culture, and require the EU to revise its two main spending policies -- farm subsidies and regional aid, according to Reuters.
Turkey's supporters say admitting the vast, mainly agrarian country into the EU would spread stability and security and promote dialogue with the Islamic world.
The country's detractors say it is too big and populous, too poor and culturally different to integrate into the EU.
Despite their differences, EU leaders agreed to set the October date for starting talks more than 40 years after Ankara signed an association deal as a first step toward membership.