However, two draft progress reports prepared by the European Commission suggest that uncertainties abound, and that any decision is likely to come with extensive conditions and qualifications attached to allow more skeptical member states to support it.
The European Commission's annual progress report on Turkey praises democratic reforms undertaken since 1999 and accelerated in the past two years. However, it does not clearly say Turkey now meets the so-called Copenhagen entry criteria dealing with democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Instead, a number of areas are identified where Turkey is clearly at odds with what are described as "modern" European standards.
Thus, the recognition that constitutional reforms have shifted the balance of civil-military relations toward civilians comes with the caveat that conflicting legal provisions allow the military to continue to enjoy a degree of autonomy.
Turkey's new Penal Code, adopted a few days ago, receives wide praise for abolishing the death penalty and enshrining women's rights.
The Penal Code also outlaws torture. The report notes there was a marked decline in reported instances of torture in 2004 as compared with 2003. However, an increase in claims of torture was recorded outside of formal detention centers.
An EU fact-finding mission returned from Turkey last month and concluded that Ankara is seriously pursuing its policy of zero tolerance on torture. Again, however, the mission reported that "numerous cases" of torture and ill treatment of detainees still occur.
Similar conclusions are evident in other key judgments. Reforms are praised, but continued contrary practices are noted.
Thus, the report says there have been a significant number of cases where nonviolent expression of opinion is still prosecuted and punished. Books were still being banned and writers put on trial in 2003.
In the field of human rights and the protection of minorities, the report recognizes the introduction of two constitutional reforms and eight legislative-reform packages since 1999. Turkey has adopted a number of human rights treaties since 1999. It executes some judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, but -- again -- not others.
Human-rights-monitoring bodies have been set up, as have specialist training programs at the the Interior and Justice ministries, as well as police. However, implementation of human rights reforms is said not to be uniform across the country.
Turkey is criticized for not having signed the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. It receives praise for having allowed TV and radio broadcasts in minority languages, such as Kurdish, Arabic, Bosnian, and Circassian. However, it is noted that harsh restrictions exist limiting their length.
The report notes that Turkey constitutionally guarantees the freedom of religion, but adds that non-Muslim communities continue to encounter difficulties. Thus, Christians are said to occasionally still be subject to police surveillance.
The second report analyzes the potential impact of Turkish membership on the EU. It proceeds from the assumption that Turkey would not join before 2014. That date marks the start of the new EU multiannual budget cycle.
The assessment appears to be that most of the EU's current policies -- above all, farm support and regional aid -- will need to be radically rethought so that they do not prove ruinously costly.
The study says a Turkish accession would be different from all previous enlargements because of the country's population, size, and geographical location.
The annual cost of farm support to Turkey is estimated to top 11 billion euros ($13.6 billion) – or more than 10 percent of the EU's current budget.
Long transitional periods are predicted for the free movement of workers, and a potentially permanent "safeguard" measure may become necessary to allow other EU member states to lock out Turkish labor if their markets suffer ill effects.
Another major challenge is said to be the future management of the bloc's external borders, as well as dealing with migration and asylum issues once Turkey joins. Fighting organized crime, terrorism, and the trafficking of human beings, drugs, and arms will also present significant new challenges for the EU.
Turkey's membership in the visa-free Schengen area is said not to be a "short-term" prospect after accession. This means that border controls would remain in place.
Opportunities for the EU could arise in the form of heightened security for the bloc's energy supplies. Turkey would provide direct links to the Caspian countries, as well as the Persian Gulf.
The clearest positive potential for the EU emerges in the field of foreign policy. As a country with a Muslim majority and a strategic position, Turkey could valuably enhance the EU's role in the wider Middle East. It could also serve as an important model for reform.
However, the report says that, in practical terms, Turkish and EU policies are still often at variance regarding Iraq, the Caucasus, and relations with the Muslim world.
Turkey could also become a channel for stabilizing EU influence in the South Caucasus. Much is said to depend on Turkey's willingness, though. In particular relations with Armenia will need to improve. The study says reconciliation must be achieved over the mass killings of Armenians in 1915 and 1916, which are widely called genocide. Turkey must also contribute to the easing of tensions in the dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan concerning Nagorno-Karabakh.
The study says Turkey could also help the EU to stabilize Central Asia.