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is that the frontiers of ‘Europe’ towards the east are everywhere open and indeterminate.‘Europe’, it can now be seen, is not a continent – as in the ancient geographers’ dream – but a subcontinent: a peninsula of the Eurasian landmass, like India in being inhabited by a highly distinctive chain of interacting cultures, but unlike it in lacking a clearly marked geophysical frontier.

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A decade and a half later, the matter has assumed a more tangible shape.

After the absorption of all the former Comecon states, there remain the untidy odds and ends of the once independent Communisms of Yugoslavia and Albania – the seven small states of the ‘West Balkans’ – yet to be integrated in the EU.

But no one doubts that, a pocket still to be mopped up behind borders that already extend to the Black Sea, they will enter it in due course.

The great issue facing the Union lies further east, at the point where no vast steppe confounds the eye, but a long tradition has held that a narrow strip of water separates one world from another. ‘Every schoolchild knows that Asia Minor does not form part of Europe,’ Sarkozy told voters en route to the Elysée, promising to keep it so: a pledge to be taken in the spirit of the conjugal reunion on offer in the same campaign. Within the EU the official consensus that it should become a member-state in full standing has for some time now been overwhelming.

It would look as if only the last of the motives in Eastern Europe, the economic objective, applies – not unimportant, certainly, but incapable of explaining the priority Turkey’s entry into the EU has acquired in Brussels.