Turkey - can the circle be squared?

THE founding fathers of what is now the European Union designed a Christian Democrat club whose main aim was to stop France and the then West Germany knocking 10 bells out of each other in another world war.

THE founding fathers of what is now the European Union designed a Christian Democrat club whose main aim was to stop France and the then West Germany knocking 10 bells out of each other in another world war.

For 40 years, it has enlarged to encompass the protestant northern nations of Europe, the Catholic Mediterranean and Central European states, and orthodox Greece. Now talks will start on trying to integrate the Muslim state of Turkey into the club.

It will take at least 10 years of painful negotiations before we know if the Christian west is prepared to embrace Turkey. Europeans might flock to the Turkish coast for their holidays each year, but are they prepared to co-exist in their cities and towns alongside perhaps tens of thousands of poor Turkish migrants once border controls come down?

Then there's the thorny question of Cyprus. Here I must declare a personal interest - my son's future wife comes from a family of Greek Cypriot extraction whose property was confiscated by the Turkish community after the 1974 invasion and the island was divided.

Tory Euro MP Geoffrey Van Orden, speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, supported the start of talks. He said Turkey had been a staunch ally of NATO for 50 years and that during much of that time, the country had been subjected to terrorist attacks by organisations supported by the Soviet Union.

"Many say Turkish accession would fundamentally change the nature of the EU. If this means an end to the inexorable drive towards political integration and the end of the idea of some European state, then I welcome this."

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Not so the UK Independence Party. One of its Euro MPs in the region Tom Wise - who has just been selected to fight Bedfordshire South-West at the General Election - declared: "Turkey is not a suitable entrant to the EU. It is a poor, Muslim, Middle-Eastern country of 70 millions people, which has a questionable human rights record and forcibly occupies part of another EU start.

"Apart from a desire to spend someone else's money. Turkey has nothing in common with existing EU states."

Meanwhile, Andrew Duff - the East of England's chief cheerleader for European Constitution - believes the public has the right to know the potential consequences for those member states, including the UK, which have opted to hold a referendum.

Liberal Democrat Euro MP Mr Duff told the European Parliament: "The Commission must come up with some serious answers to those who want to know what will happen if they vote no to the Constitution. It should not fight shy of causing offence to some governments, especially to those which have sought refuge in plebiscites but show no signs of wanting to fight to win them.

"The public has to hear why it would be sheer folly to reject the Constitution, and what the consequences of an enfeebled European Union would be."

n I CAN'T let the Blunkett-Quinn farrago pass without sharing the view of one of East Anglia's Labour MPs who remarked to me in the Members' Lobby of the Commons on Wednesday that the former Home Secretary had been unwise to associate with a Tory. "It reminds me of Ramsey McDonald, who was always sniffing around Lady Londonderry."

A Happy Christmas to you all.

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