After the summer break, the European Union is bristling with unsolved old problems: the running sore of the failing EU treaty, the approaching deadline for agreeing a new financial perspective, the aggravation of the underlying strains in the euro by growing divergences among euro-zone economies, and persistent differences over negotiating approaches to the impending summit on the Doha development round.

The summer has added further challenges of recrudescent terrorism, fresh concerns over air safety and avian flu, forest fires and floods, the growing spike in oil pricesa The already-full EU agenda is now bordering on the unmanageable.

Yet EU Foreign Ministers at their bi-annual informal review of EU affairs in the UK this week will have little time for any of this, since their attention will be largely monopolised by the question of what to do about Turkey.

Forty-five years after Turkey first applied to become a member state, and just one month short of the scheduled date for starting accession negotiations, the EU is only now plunged into an unprecedented debate over the merits of enlargement to Turkey. The appalling timing is a telling indictment of the EU's pathological inability to discuss what it is going to do before it starts doing it.

This should have already been resolved before the EU's December 2004 summit set the opening date for accession...

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