TURKEY faces giant obstacles to joining the European Community - and potentially major repercussions if it fails. The EC is now grappling with the negative implications that either accepting or rejecting Turkey will entail. An EC Commission report evaluating Turkey's application is due at year's end. If subsequent discussions were favorable, three to four years of negotiation would begin. In case of agreement, at least five more years would pass before Turkey had full membership status.
``We know that it took some other members years to join the community and we are prepared to wait. But for us the important thing now is to ensure that the commission gives the green light signal,'' a senior Turkish government official says.
Prime Minister Turgut Ozal has made EC membership a major policy objective. Opposition parties - except the pro-fundamentalist Welfare Party - support it.
One reason for the broad support is that many Turks identify themselves as Europeans. Moreover, Turkey is a member of NATO, the Council of Europe, and other European organizations. Another reason is economic: Turkey's main trade is with the EC countries.
Mr. Ozal officially expresses optimism about entering the EC. But he is also aware of the difficulties.
Many Europeans are reluctant to admit Turkey as the club's thirteenth member because of what it might mean for EC integration in 1992.
West Germany fears a mass influx of workers from Turkey. Members with agricultural potential fear that Turkish exports could threaten their own.
And Greece, Turkey's rival, is already in the EC. Greece, in an apparent attempt to pressure Turkey over the Cyprus dispute, has openly objected to Ankara's application. Turkish troops have occupied part of the Mediterranean island nation since 1974.
EC membership applications require unanimous approval.
``All kinds of pretexts are being advanced by those who really do not want Turkey in the community,'' a government official says. ``None of these arguments are serious or valid.''
Some officials say privately that Europeans view Turkey as Muslim, and thus alien. ``Sometimes we notice that people want to keep the EC as a Christian club,'' a Turkish intellectual noted.
Turkish officials fear that rejection might spark an identity crisis, with these possible consequences:
The government will be embarrassed. Turks will see Europe as hostile.
Many Turks will think about ``appropriate reaction.'' Although leaving NATO would be out of the question, reducing commitments to the Western alliance would be seriously considered.
There will be pressures from pro-Islamic circles to seek alternative political and economic alignments, namely a shift to the Islamic world. The Welfare Party wants Turkey to lead in forming an ``Islamic common market.''
Turkish officials and foreign diplomats don't expect flat rejection - but not definite acceptance either. Recent statements suggest that the European partners would prefer to give Turkey most of the economic advantages of the EC without full membership.