Turkey (the country, not the bird about to be consumed at so many U.S. holiday dinner tables) provides an excellent modern example of the old dictum that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive.

Since the 1980s the country has introduced a slew of economic reforms, designed in part to meet its long-term goal of achieving membership of the EU, whose member states insist on a clean economic bill of health as a condition of entry.

These reforms, including the elimination of most government subsidies and the opening of the country to foreign direct investment, have formed the bedrock that has allowed the economy to thrive — with a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate of 9.2 percent in 2010 that was the highest in Europe. Growth has slowed this year to a projected 3 percent, but is expected by economists to accelerate again in the coming years.

A clean economic bill is not enough, however, given political barriers such as Turkey’s refusal to recognize EU member Cyprus. Turkey’s chances of EU entry now look uncertain at best, but the legacy of its EU ambitions remains: Many analysts say the economy is well-placed to achieve continuing strong economic growth, thanks to past and present reforms. Ironically, if Turkey had managed to join the union and enter the metaphorical heart of Europe, it might by now be a member of the euro zone’s troubled periphery, suffering from the effects of the boom-to-bust trajectory that hit other high-growth economies.