The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has softened his opposition to negotiations with Turkey on membership of the European Union.
In his first significant speech on foreign policy since his election in May, M. Sarkozy said yesterday that he remained opposed to Turkish membership but would not necessarily block a resumption of negotiations with Ankara.
He called on the EU to set up a committee of a dozen wise men and women before the end of this year to consider how large the Union should be and which policies it should develop.
If this was approved, President Sarkozy said, he would not stand in the way of restarting talks with Turkey. However, any negotiations must allow for two possible conclusions: full Turkish membership or the looser, "associate" status he had proposed during his election campaign.
President Sarkozy's comments, although not quite a U-turn, represent a considerable weakening of his previous absolute opposition to Turkish membership of the European Union. "Turkey's place is not in the EU," he said during his election campaign in the spring.
In a wide-ranging speech to a conference of French ambassadors in Paris, President Sarkozy said that his personal opinion was unchanged. He said that he believed that, in the long run, "associate" status would be accepted by all parties as the "most reasonable" way of handling relations between the EU and Turkey.
In the meantime, he said, he would not veto the reopening of negotiations on all subjects which could lead to either full or associate membership.
The EU has, in any case, partially frozen talks with Ankara in protest against Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and aircraft.