A Catholic bulwark against Islam?
According to the same Eurosearch poll, some 60 percent of Austrians say that religion is irrelevant to the question of whether a country should be permitted to join the EU. Only 28 percent see Europe as a "Christian fortress". In fact, the Austrian Catholic hierarchy has not taken a position against Turkish accession.
The central institution of Austria's Catholic Church is the 15-member Austrian Bishops' Conference, and it has long taken pride in its tradition of dialogue with Islam. Asked about Turkey, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the chair of the Conference, noted in December 2004 that "it is not a religious question; these are political questions, where Catholics can have different attitudes." On another occasion, Schonborn stated that Turkey belonged "historically" to Europe. In June 2004, the Conference's Council on World Religions also issued an official statement, appealing for an open approach to the Turkish question:
"Austria has traditionally played an important role as a broker of religious, cultural, and political values towards the Islamic world. It would be time to follow this tradition, forgoing populist temptations, especially regarding the discussion of the EU-accession of Turkey"