Leading article: The case for Turkey

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The Independent Online

That is not to make light of the obstacles. While the prospect of EU membership has had a beneficial effect in entrenching democratic values in Turkey over the past two decades, problems remain. The status of northern Cyprus must be resolved, as must that of the Kurdish minority on the mainland. It would help, too, if the Turkish state at least acknowledged the Armenian genocide of 1915.

The accession of Turkey also raises the tricky question of where the limits of "Europe" lie. If Turkey is in, why not Ukraine, or Morocco, or Iraq, with which Turkey shares a border? But there does not have to be a definitive answer to that: pragmatism has served the Union well since the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Pragmatism and universalist values are a better guide than the idea of a Christian Europe, which Chris Patten, the former external affairs commissioner, rightly described yesterday as "introverted and medieval".

Austria's opposition to Turkey's membership is worse than xenophobic. To be sure, history matters, and the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna means more to Austrians than others. But there is an alternative history, in which Turkey is home to the long estranged eastern part of a common civilisation.

Turkey should not be ruled out on grounds of race or religion, or proxies for them. In principle, therefore, Turkey can join; in practice there is a long way still to go. Tony Blair and Jack Straw should be commended for championing this cause and deserve to overcome Austria's objections, which are only the visible part in the EU of an iceberg of introverted medievalism.

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