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The Independent (London), October 10, 2002
2002-10-10 14:39:48

THE EUROPEAN Union yesterday took an historic step towards the ultimate goal it set itself in the Treaty of Rome of 1957 of "an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe". The original six will by 2004 become 25, stretching from Portugal to Estonia.

Even figures as visionary as Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman, pioneers of the European adventure 50 years ago, cannot have imagined that one day their project would be enthusiastically joined not just by former Communist states in the east but by former republics of the USSR itself. This progressive reunification of Europe is a time for celebration. It is a testament to the power of the European dream. Of course, these mostly poorer economies want to join the rich man's club to share in its prosperity, as did we, after much hesitation, in 1973. But, having lived under Communism or occupation, they also yearn to be anchored in a body with democratic values at its core. For all its flaws, the EU provides that security.

There are some formidable challenges ahead, the first on 19 October. If the Irish people vote "yes" in their referendum on the Nice Treaty then expansion can proceed; if they again vote "no", the consequences will be grim (though it is hard to believe that a nation that has benefited so much from the EU would turn its back on poorer peoples).

After that will come proposals from the commission chaired by Valery Giscard d'Estaing for a constitution for Europe, one that should simplify the Union and make it more democratic. Looking further ahead, however, is a thornier problem: Turkey's application to join, pending since 1961.

There are obvious difficulties with Turkish accession - the Kurdish question and Turkey's illegal occupation of part of Cyprus, soon to be an EU member state, being the most obvious. Turkey is also yet to satisfy the "Copenhagen criteria" on human rights. If the EU were to open serious talks about accession with Turkey, there might be an incentive for them to improve that record. However, with Greece and its ally Cyprus in possession of a veto on expansion, Turkey is destined to remain outside the gates of Europe for many years to come.

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