As European Union leaders gather in Denmark for their last summit of the year, millions of Turks are anxiously awaiting their decision on Turkey's request for a firm date to start membership negotiations.

In a barber shop in Istanbul's bohemian Galata neighborhood, Osman Guvercin does not seem too worried about the decision expected in Copenhagen during the next few days. Like a growing number of Turks, Mr. Guvercin believes that the European Union will, as he puts it, be obliged to admit Turkey as a full member sooner or later.

Mr. Guvercin says that, with its 70 million people, diverse geography and natural wealth, Turkey would be a bonus for Europe.

Recent public opinion polls indicate that over 70 percent of Turks are in favor of joining the European Union. And the country's ruling Justice and Development Party, which gained power in last month's parliamentary elections, says securing Turkey's entry into the EU is a top priority.

Justice and Development party chairman Tayyip Erdogan has been touring European capitals over the past month to urge EU leaders to give Turkey a firm date to start membership talks. To boost Turkey's chances, the new government has drafted a democratic reform package, which parliament is expected to pass quickly.

But EU leaders remain divided over whether to give Turkey a firm date for starting the membership talks. Some of them say reforms must be implemented.

Many Turks however, and they include Mr. Erdogan, are accusing EU leaders of using Turkey's human rights record as an excuse to keep Turkey out of their club. The real reason, they say, is because Turkey is predominantly Muslim.

Human rights lawyer Gulden Sonmez says EU leaders need to prove that the European Union is not an exclusively Christian club, and that membership is not defined by religion, ethnicity or geography.

Mrs. Sonmez says that, only by accepting Turkey's membership can Europe prove that it is sincere about the very same democratic principles that it is demanding from Turkey.