The big question of 2004 just got bigger. Is Turkey a suitable candidate for EU membership, or not?

The decision that the EU leaders must make in December on whether to open accession talks with Ankara was never going to be easy.

But even before the European Commission provides its crucial - and supposedly objective - report next month, divergent views among the Commissioners themselves are clouding the picture.

The reservations expressed this week by two senior figures in the Commission have raised the stakes dramatically. Frits Bolkestein's asides in the Netherlands on Monday about "EU implosion" if Turkey joins were played down by his officials, who alleged media misinterpretation of his remarks.

Friday's salvo has proved even more embarrassing. A lengthy letter from Franz Fischler, who has established his authority as Agriculture Commissioner over the last ten years, spells out his concerns to Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen.

He alleges that the cost for agriculture alone would be Euro 11.3 billion, that insufficient time has been given for adequate assessment of this "quite different" accession, that EU farm policy could be weakened.

Going beyond his own areas of direct responsibility, he says that EU cohesion policy would be threatened and the entire EU political project weakened, without any consultation with European citizens. More damning still, because less objective, are Mr Fischler's suggestions of unmanageable cultural differences, or his...

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