Turkey's marathon campaign to join the EU appeared to gain momentum on Thursday after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured the union's worried bureaucrats in Brussels, Belgium, that his governing Islamic party was not straying from Turkey's longstanding secular ideals.
After meeting with Erdogan, the EU's enlargement commissioner, Guenter Verheugen, suggested that the report he planned to release on Turkey's candidacy on Oct. 6 would recommend that the union set a date for talks on Turkey's accession. EU leaders will use that report's recommendations when they decide whether to set a date for talks at a summit meeting in December.
"The assurances I received today will allow me to make a very clear recommendation," Verheugen said at a news conference.
Turkey has campaigned to become a part of Europe since the creation of the European Economic Community in 1958. But its efforts have continuously been found wanting, even as other nations from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union have been ushered ahead into the club.
It took until 1999 for the EU to accept Turkey as a formal candidate, and it still has not set a date to begin negotiations on the country's application for membership. The union's heads of government have promised to review Turkey's bid in December and make a decision "without delay" on when negotiations will begin.
Erdogan, who has staked his political credibility on advancing Turkey's membership bid, expressed confidence on Thursday that his country was now clearly on the path of EU membership.
"We have fulfilled everything with regard to the political criteria," he said at the news conference in Brussels. "So there is no reason not to receive a positive answer."
Turkey's efforts stumbled earlier this month when Erdogan's government abruptly withdrew a package of penal code changes from parliament because the package did not include statutes that would criminalize adultery. Erdogan and his party had backed a move to make adultery a crime punishable by imprisonment, despite warnings that such legislation would be viewed as running counter to European values.
The action alarmed European proponents of Turkish membership because the penal code changes are a necessary step in bringing Turkey's legal code into line with those of the EU. It also confirmed suspicions among opponents of Turkey's entry that the country is too heavily cloaked in Islam to enter a secular Christian club.
But Erdogan assured union officials in Brussels on Thursday that Turkey's parliament would convene tomorrow to approve the penal code changes without the anti-adultery law.
"No remaining outstanding obstacles remained on the table," Verheugen told reporters.