Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is beginning a three-day visit to Brussels to push forward his country's stalled European Union membership talks.
Prime Minister Erdogan is paying his first visit to Brussels in more than four years as he tries to push forward Turkey s candidacy to join the European Union. Talks have been stalled over a number of issues, with European officials wanting Turkey to reform its constitution, improve free speech, give minorities more rights, and the army less power.
The status of divided Cyprus is another key issue, and if talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders reach a settlement, that would remove a major stumbling block to Turkey's EU bid.
But Turkey faces another daunting challenge: negative European opinion. Jose-Ignacio Torreblanca is an EU expert who heads the Madrid office for the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"At this stage the biggest problem has to do with public opinion in the European Union. Because there is in fact opposition to Turkey being a member of the European Union, especially in two of the largest countries, in France and in Germany. And without public opinion in France and Germany accepting Turkish membership it is very difficult that this accession ever happens," he said.
Mr. Erdogan is going to have to work to change this perception. He has previously been criticized for not being active enough. But he recently appointed a close aide as Turkey's chief EU negotiator.
Torreblanca believes the stakes this year are high.
"It is very important that Erdogan is in Brussels these days because the enlargement process and the enlargement negotiations are about to stall. So it is very important that he seeks are renewed impulse to the accession negotiations, because otherwise 2009 could be a year in which Turkish accession could die out," he added.
But Torreblanca also believes EU support for Turkey is critical for the government to push key reforms.