The European Commission's positive accession signal on October 6 to Turkey was hedged with provisos in case the country is deemed unfit - or too destabilising a presence - to eventually join the Union. "Turkey is a special case." "Turkey's size and agricultural economy make it different" and so on goes the reasoning. Fair enough. Turkey is different, but is it that different? And should other candidate countries who enter the Union before Turkey escape extraordinary provisos?

Look at the candidates. Romania and Bulgaria are widely considered the next countries to join, in 2007. But anyone familiar with these countries knows that corruption, wasteful bureaucracy, political cronyism, porous border "control", inefficient farming, inter-ethnic suspicion and questionable police tactics are a part of their landscape.

Sounds familiar? Sounds like Western opinion about Turkey? Yes. But it also sounds like what many EU citizens say about their own countries, too. But their bureaucracies have the advantage of already belonging to the club.

Then there's Croatia, which hopes to start negotiating with the EU next year. Until not too long ago Zagreb's record on apprehending war criminals and providing all documentation to international justice authorities was patchy. It made up for lost time in 2004, but not before a period...

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