THE European Commission in Brussels did well yesterday to reiterate that negotiations with Turkey for EU membership should open, as planned, on October 3 with that country's accession to the EU as a shared objective. The idea that the talks should be postponed had been floated informally after the French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution in referendums. Many reasons were given for these rejections and one of them was said to be the publics' anxiety about the effect of future Turkish membership of the EU. However, a Eurobarometer poll published this week said that the issue of Turkey had not been behind the referendum results; only 6 per cent of Dutch voters and 3 per cent of French gave Turkish membership as their reason for voting No.
On Monday of this week the French government announced that it believed the enlargement process must be suspended until the EU institutions have been renovated. The statement was made by the French Interior Minister, and possible future President, Nicolas Sarkozy, following a meeting with the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin. For good measure, Mr Sarkozy added, Europe must have borders. No one questions that Turkey's wish to achieve membership of the EU poses difficult problems. Only a small part of the country is in Europe and if it became a member it would be the largest by population in the EU, overtaking Germany. Economically speaking it is backward and politically there remain vestiges of past dictatorial rule that would not be acceptable to the EU. But the proposed date for accession is 2015, giving plenty of time for outstanding incompatibilities to be removed. Turkey represents a critical test case on whether the EU is an exclusive Christian club for prosperous western nations or an open house for all qualified countries even if they are predominantly Muslim. If the West ever wants to persuade the Islamic world that it is open to co-existence on grounds of equal respect then the EU's acceptance of Turkish membership in due course is essential.