Turkey, albeit following complex and difficult negotiations, is likely to be admitted as a member state of the European Union in 2014.
This outcome is largely a foregone conclusion, given that Turkey has been linked with Europe through an association agreement since as long ago as 1963, and that since that time it has worked to increase the level of its interdependence, first with the European Community and subsequently with the European Union.
The fact that Turkey is an Islamic country would make its membership of the EU, from an idealistic point of view, a winning move for the Union, turning Europe into a meeting point of two worlds ­ Islamic and Christian ­ and providing a concrete rebuttal of the accusation that the European Union wants to remain a "club" of Christian nations. Moreover, Turkey is known to be a country with deep-rooted lay traditions and, in addition, one that has taken important and courageous steps towards the overcoming of its backwardness in the areas of penal and civil law, in its administrative system, in the organisation of its police force, and in the management of its relations with Kurdish minorities and with the Turkish republic of Cyprus, as well as, more generally, towards the establishment of a genuinely liberal-democratic regime. With its population of around 70 million people and its high birth rate, Turkey looks to have taken the first step along the road that will see it becoming the European Union's most populated state, expanding considerably the EU's internal market.

As was entirely predictable, there has been strong resistance to the prospect of Turkey's joining the EU. In addition to the inevitable racist argument, which is that Turkey should remain excluded purely because it is a Muslim state and, in geographical terms, largely an Asian country, there is growing support for the idea that enlargement to a vast production area where the cost of labour is low would risk upsetting the competitive balance that exists within the Union. It is argued that because Turkey borders on Syria, Iraq and Iran, it would become easier for individuals with terrorist connections to find their way into Europe. It is also stressed that the full incorporation, into Europe's institutions, of such a highly populated country would be bound to alter radically the political equilibria within the Union, jeopardising the current supremacy of influence of the so-called big countries.

But above all, there exists the belief, within some political forces in some of the EU member states, that Turkey's entry would be a further, irreversible step towards a watering down of the Union into a large free trade area ­ one that would rapidly expand to include the Maghreb countries, thereby losing entirely its capacity to control its own internal market and to make its presence felt in international trade negotiations. According to this view, Turkey's entry into the EU would undermine irreversibly the cohesion of the Union.

This is a belief that is shared by many eurosceptics, whose support for Turkey's application is instead motivated by their active desire to see the European Union watered down. But, in reality, theirs is an unfounded belief, given that the European Union is already a free trade area. The EU is, even now, largely ungovernable and it is inconceivable that, in its present configuration, it might evolve in the direction of a "more perfect union." It will certainly take something other than the entry of Turkey to bring about a change in its nature. This is why, above all in France, support has been growing for the idea of increasing the compactness, political and economic, of a group of EU member states (corresponding to that part of Europe that French political debate generally terms l'Europe-puissance, outside which there would remain a nebula of states that would retain their links with the European institutions and continue to be subject to community law, or possibly to less binding legislation (l'Europe-espace).

This is what is meant by a two-tier (or in the view of some, three-tier) Europe. But it is a solution that, until the nature and extent of the so-called Europe-puissance is clearly defined, is destined to remain purely theoretical. The question of the nature of the first tier does not concern (or rather does not concern only) its competences, but rather the instrument through which these competences can be exercised, in other words its power (to which the expression "Europe-puissance" refers). But this question is not raised in political debate, in which there is apparently no awareness that the state is the only instrument through which power can be expressed. As a result there is also a failure to realise that the only way to create, inside the Union, a core group of states capable of guaranteeing their own security ­ and in the final instance that of the Union as a whole ­, of making Europe's peaceful presence felt in the world, and of enforcing the observance, by its citizens, of the rules established and decisions taken by the institutions, is through the founding, inside the Union, of an out-and-out federal state with its own army, police force and fiscal system.

Accordingly, there is no real awareness, either, of how big this initial federal core would have to be in order to come into being and grow. Clearly, it could only be made up of a limited number of states, politically and economically homogeneous, united by a long and shared history of integration, and in which public opinion is receptive to the idea of European unity. The current, 25-member Union certainly does not match this description, and neither does the Eurozone, or any group that might include Great Britain, or indeed any constellation that might casually emerge from the unlikely application of "enhanced cooperations."

In truth there is only one group of countries, or core, in which it is possible to envisage a contemporaneous mustering of the real political will needed in order to pursue this objective: this group is that of the Community's six founding member states, or, should it prove impossible initially to gather their unanimous support for a concrete project, a smaller group, but one that would have to include France and Germany as the two countries at the heart of the whole process of European unification.

Some argue that a first tier of this size, made up of six states or fewer, would be too small to carry any weight in the global equilibrium, but this view is totally unfounded. Although the Europe-puissance must inevitably start life as a genuine federal state, this certainly does not mean that it would not be destined to grow progressively to include the members of the second tier, with which, both tiers being subject to Community legislation, it would retain close links. The second tier (i.e., the rest of Europe), on the other hand, would be a sort of natural incubator nurturing the vocations and interdependences that would bring about the progressive enlargement of the first tier. The nature of the Union as a whole would thus be completely revolutionised by the presence, within it, of a federal core. The strong power of attraction that this core would exert over the second tier would mean that any enlargement of the European Union need no longer be feared ­ or by eurosceptics welcomed ­ as evidence of a watering down or crumbling of the Union, but rather hailed ­ or by eurosceptics dreaded ­ as prior step to the admission of new members into a solid and expanding European federal state.

Yet there remains the undeniable fact that the foundation of this core is an enormously difficult undertaking, not least because of the fierce opposition to the endeavour that would be mounted by Great Britain (in addition to the United States). However, the stature of politicians is not measured by their ability to handle normal situations, but rather by their ability to overcome extraordinary difficulties in extraordinary times. The course of European unity has reached a historic turning point, and Europe's politicians are called upon to rise to the test.