The Ukrainians and Turks can't be left out of the new Europe

It's the debate that stopped dead in its tracks. One minute after the French referendum vote came in, Tony Blair was ideological master of the EU rebels, liberated, prescribing the course of things to come in Brussels, chortling behind Jacques Chirac's back. And the next minute, nothing happened. Europe went on holiday. Mr Europe went to Barbados. Six months to save the union turned into four.

Time to track back with the first chill of autumn and relive some of the mellow certainties that flourished before Tavistock Square.

Do you remember how the British economy brought light into continental darkness? Do you remember why any more argument over Iraq had become redundant? And how our vision - the Blair/Brown vision - was bound to prevail as France changed presidents and dear Angela Merkel inherited Berlin on September 18? Ah yes! We remember such triumphal anthems well.

But suddenly the vision thing looks tatty. For what is our distinctive dream of a European future? It isn't old French, German or Belgian, plunging ever deeper in search of total integration. It is broader, wider, naturally dynamic. It seeks to create fresh markets and spread prosperity, to compete on global terms. It is naturally hot on peace and democracy.

Good enough to turn a pretty speech at the European parliament, perhaps, but distinctly less durable out in the real world. What do we mean by "broader and wider"? We mean expansion, growth, ever-spreading membership: Romania and Bulgaria in a year or two, Croatia and Macedonia and even Bosnia lining up behind.

And then for the big ones: Turkey, where the long match of negotiation must begin in October, and Ukraine - maybe 130 million more souls joined together in supplication, banging at our door.

Has Britain, forward-looking Britain, concentrated much on such things to come yet? Not in parliament or the great saloon bars of public opinion, maybe. Expansion just happens so far as the world outside is concerned, bringing early panics about Polish plumbers one week and satisfaction at getting your pipes mended cheaply the next.

But in the salons of Europe, where they serve French claret, not Stella on draft, the going is getting much tougher, much faster. France threw the Turkish negotiations into crisis the other day when the prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, swiftly transformed as a non-diplomatic ex-diplomat, announced that Ankara would have to recognise Greek Cyprus as the legal government of the island before any meaningful talks could begin (the Turks, with extreme difficulty, having just formalised clear trading links with Nicosia).

So, at a bound, the prospect of Turkish membership as a means of solving the Cyprus impasse is turned on its head - and more years of UN toil go to waste. So the Turks, reforming hard, striving to prepare for Europe, get dealt duplicity as usual. So the prospect of a Muslim member nation, tolerance and unity cemented, the one development al-Qaida doesn't want, slips back into jeopardy again.

It is a grim outcome, one that will be made no better if Merkel becomes German chancellor. (She doesn't want Turkey allowed in either.) It also has a particular emotional resonance.

I was in Kiev a few weeks ago, talking to journalists. Kiev isn't Istanbul or Ankara. It is stately and tree-lined and well-ordered, with cafe society flourishing along the river bank. Go to the British ambassador's summer party, and the brass band and cucumber sandwiches seem utterly natural. Of course, out there in peasant country, poverty still hangs heavy - just as it did in Poland 10 years ago. Of course, there are many years of development and sacrifice to go before the EU is accomplished reality.

But reality began, only eight months ago, in the orange revolution, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians camped out for days in the central square until a corrupt presidency was bundled into history and a tainted election was overturned. Ukraine defined itself on the streets of its major cities as 2005 began. It chose Europe, not more truckling to Mother Russia. It chose its own passionate version of freedom. It looked to Brussels, not Moscow.

And what has Brussels offered in return? Fair words and fair action, a new "neighbourhood policy" with 150 or so tests and reforms that clear the way for full entry application. These tests go hell for leather after democracy and market economics.

They mean reform, expense, pain and some electoral unpopularity - but Kiev is gritting its teeth and ploughing on. It finds faith at the end of this rainbow. With Warsaw's profound encouragement, it has taken Turkey's route to defining national identity.

But, meanwhile, thwarted old Europe has sidled into a blocking role. How can you expand and expand again in such testing circumstances if there is no constitution to guide 30-plus members and millions more citizens through day-to-day life? Britain wanted Turkey in, so Britain had better come up with membership rules that work. If Poland backs Ukraine, Poland will have to turn very helpful indeed.

It may be an argument tarnished by cynicism. It may be ruthless and deceitful. But before we choke on the vision thing, we ought also to acknowledge its logic. If the expansion we work for comes, the union itself needs urgent reform. And it is a moral issue.

We helped Turkey's new government put its life in our hands. We said we were there with the orange revolutionaries of Kiev. We owe them both debts of honour. We can't just pack when it begins to rain this autumn. We're leaders, aren't we?
Peter Preston, The Guardian
London, UK

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