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French president Nicolas Sarkozy has said he will not obstruct EU negotiations with Turkey so long as member states agree to take a thorough look at the future of the bloc.

"If this fundamental reflection on the future of our Union is launched by the 27 [member states] France will not oppose new chapters of negotiation being opened between the Union and Turkey in the coming months and years," said Mr Sarkozy in Paris on Monday (27 August), according to AP.

The reflection on Europe should be about its "borders, its future and its message" and should be carried out by a ten-member committee of high level experts from across the EU, with a final report before the European elections in mid-2009.

The report, which is to look at what sort of Europe is wanted by 2020-2030, should be used during the next European Commission term to make policy and financial decisions.

Mr Sarkozy also imposed a second condition on the Turkey talks by saying that only legislation that does not touch directly on EU membership should be discussed by the two sides.

The negotiations should be "compatible with the two possible visions of the future of relations: either membership, or as close an association as possible without going as far as membership," he told the annual gathering French ambassadors.

According to the French president, this means that five negotiating chapters are taboo.

Mr Sarkozy said he told the Turkish prime minister "'let's deal with the 30 chapters and see about the rest," said Mr Sarkozy.

His words are the most precise overview of France's thinking on Turkey since Mr Sarkozy made his opposition to Ankara's membership clear during his electoral campaign earlier this year.

Abandoning a full-blown debate

It also appears to represent a softening of Mr Sarkozy's approach towards the whole issue. He had previously indicated he wanted a full-blown debate on Turkey before the end of the year.

France's clearer position may allow the EU as a whole to be more coherent towards Turkey.

Its policy towards Ankara - it officially opened membership negotiations two years ago - had been thrown into disarray by Mr Sarkozy, particularly when Paris in June blocked the opening of talks on eurozone legislation as being too indicative of full EU membership.

For its part, Turkey also reacted with annoyance to France's repeated calls for a Mediterranean Union with the implication that Ankara should rather be a part of that than of the European Union.

But in an apparent warning against expecting too much leeway, Mr Sarkozy reminded his audience that "a consensus is required to continue the negotiations."

He also said he remained opposed to full membership. " "I'm not going to be hypocritical. Everyone knows I'm only in favour of association," he said.

As a whole, Turkey's membership talks with the EU have made painfully slow progress.

Only two chapters have been opened while a series of others are blocked due to Turkey's continued refusal to allow trade with EU member Cyprus.


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