Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Luxembourg in the middle of the night to attend the opening of talks.
The start of negotiations came only after Austria dropped its demand that Turkey be granted "special partnership" but not full membership in the trade bloc. In voicing her support for the start of talks, Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik noted there are more than 250,000 Turks living in Austria, a country of eight million.
However, recent polls in Austria show only one in ten Austrians support the inclusion of Turkey in the E.U. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw downplayed cultural and religious tensions between Austria and Turkey, dating back hundreds of years to the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires calling the opening of talks a "historic day" for Europe and the world.
"To be able to bring this very large Muslim-dominated country into the European Union which has, frankly, previously obviously been dominated by countries with a Christian heritage is a way at this critical time of binding these two great religions together, proving there's no clash of civilizations, merely a profound divide between civilized people across the world and a tiny minority who wish to wreck our civilization," said the foreign secretary, reports VOA.
Erdogan discussed Austrian balk of the talks in a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a sign of the importance that the United States attaches to the Turkish bid.
Britain, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has repeatedly stressed the strategic importance of allowing in Muslim Turkey.
Erdogan warned last weekend that European leaders should accept Turkey or the EU would "end up a Christian club."
Countries that "cannot accept Turkey in the EU are those who oppose an alliance of civilizations," Erdogan said earlier.
It is a refrain that Turkey keeps repeating as it tries to assuage European concerns about accepting a huge, poor country that is overwhelmingly Muslim, informs The Moscow Times.