IT was obviously only a matter of time before the question of Turkey's future membership of the European Union was put in the context of the London bombing by Islamic terrorists and of Turkey's own bombing incident at the weekend. Yesterday the Austrian finance minister, Karl-Heinz Grasser, said that he would try to ensure that Turkey's membership was not considered before applications from Croatia and other Balkan States had been considered. He went further by insisting that although there should be economic and social links between Turkey and the EU, full membership should not be on the agenda. Austria is not the only EU country with doubts about Turkish membership but it has taken the lead in expressing opposition and it asumes the presidency of the EU from Britain in six months time. There are historical reasons for Austria's reluctance to welcome Turkey into the EU but its current position is shared with several other countries which cannot see how a relatively backward Muslim nation can be absorbed by the EU in which it would become the largest member state. The alternative view, of course, is that since politically and econmically Turkey looks towards Europe rather than to the Middle East or Asia, it would make sense to show that the EU is not an exclusively Christian club. As matters stand, the EU is committed to enter into negotiations with Turkey later this year as the start of a process which is not likely to reach fruition for ten years, at the earliest. Britain will have the responsibility for deciding how to handle the hardening position of Austria and others against Turkey without sending signals that would risk bringing to an end the strenuous efforts of the Turkish government to modernise the country in line with EU membership requirements.


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