Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, Miliband said that being European is about values, not race or religion, and therefore having a Muslim country with a secular public realm can only strengthen the Union.
Without alluding to France or Germany, which recently proposed a 'privileged partnership' for Ankara (EurActiv 08/05/09 and 11/05/09), the UK's primary diplomat said that he was aware of such views, but added that in his perspective most of these concerns "are based on a static and frankly out-of-date view of what modern Turkey is".
Miliband listed the advantages of Turkey's EU membership, pointing to its role as an important transit country for securing Europe's energy supply, as well as for tackling drugs and international criminal routes.
Miliband also spoke about Europe's responsibility to integrate the Western Balkans, highlighting the need to solve current setbacks in Bosnia and Herzegovina (EurActiv 21/10/09). In a broader sense, he said that by enlarging, the EU has become stronger, and that all had benefited from this – both older members and newcomers.
"No-one believes that in the next twenty years the EU could or should double in size again. But if we fail to use our power to break down the barriers between the EU and its neighbours, freeing up trade, investment, and travel, and welcoming new members, we will all – not just aspirant members - pay a significant price. The figures actually speak volumes here – in less than 10 years trade between the old and new member states grew almost threefold," Miliband said.
The UK foreign secretary also saw the Eastern Partnership, the recently launched new framework for cooperation between the European Union and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine (see EurActiv 07/11/08), as a "step toward possible membership" of the Union.
In fact, a number of EU countries, including France and Germany, had insisted that the Eastern Partnership should not contain a promise for EU membership, and even refused to call it the 'Eastern European Partnership'.
British diplomats told the press that Miliband's speech was not to be seen as a policy programme in a campaign for the post of the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs. Miliband himself said that he was "fully booked" and did not harbour ambitions of an EU career.
According to many pundits, Miliband's pro-Turkey positions will likely exclude him from the race, as he would be vetoed by "more than one country".