But it almost didn't happen. Several EU member countries have public opinions strongly or very strongly disfavouring Turkish membership of the EU. Up and coming politicians in both France (Sarkozy) and Germany (Merkel) oppose it, reflecting large segments of public opinion there. One country, however, has even more visceral objections. It is Austria.
Austria has given many fine things to the world - two at random are the waltz and Viennese coffee, seasoned with figs. I'm not sure that Sigmund Freud fits entirely comfortably on the positive side of the balance sheet, though.
Austria, however, also gave the world the person who initiated the worst period in modern European history - I speak, of course, of Adolf Hitler. Thank you, Austria.
Who knows the real reason(s) why your average Austrian, or German or French person, is so deeply opposed to Turkey joining the EU? Demographically Europe will have many problems in coming decades in finding sufficient younger people to do the work necessary to support a much increased percentage of elderly citizens. Where is this labour to come from? For a few years I have no doubt that the eight former communist new members will provide good sources of cheaper and skilled workers, but that will not last forever - their living standards will quickly rise and their birthrates will likely soon be little different from many long-standing EU members. What then? Turkey seems like a good solution, to me, for them and us. Turkey is no shining democracy, of course, but it seems to me much more likely that we can encourage it to continue to become more democratic, and prosperous, by holding out the hand of friendship and partnership, rather than by slamming the door to them on any possibility of joining us in the EU.
At least that catastrophic folly has been avoided. The negotiations will be long and difficult and, however much I may wish Turkey eventually to become a member of the EU, it will have to be on the basis of them adopting our ideals of democracy - which means, for a start, no more routine torture in its police stations and hospitals - the pressure on Turkey to maintain its progress toward eliminating such practices must not be relaxed. It is some kind of positive sign that both Greece and Cyprus apparently support the start of negotiations with Turkey; we and the Turks themselves must, by our actions and their behaviour aim to re-assure the Austrians that the withdrawal of their last-minute objections was not folly.