EU foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting Sunday to discuss membership talks with Turkey after their ambassadors failed to reach an agreement on a negotiating mandate Thursday.
Is the sun already setting on Turkey's EU membership dreams?
Diplomats said Austria stuck to demands that Turkey be offered an explicit alternative to full membership.
"Unfortunately it didn't prove possible today to agreement at ambassador level," an EU spokesman said, according to Reuters. "Efforts will continue, including now at ministerial level."
Four decades after Ankara first knocked on the rich European club's door, the negotiations -- likely to last at least a decade -- are scheduled to begin on the sidelines of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.
While few really expect the talks to be called off, frantic diplomacy seems set to continue down to the wire: EU member states have to unanimously approve the negotiations framework before talks can open.
The most resistance is coming from Vienna, which openly opposes Turkey's entry bid. Austria objects to the current negotiating framework because in its view the terms do not sufficiently spell out that negotiations could fail. Instead, Austria would like Turkey to be offered the prospect of something other than full EU membership.
Europea n support for Turkey droppi n g
Schüssel opposes the EU's current negotiating framework with Turkey
"If Turkey does not fulfill the criteria, then Turkey should be bound in Europe by the strongest possible bond," Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel (photo) told the I n ter n atio n al Herald Tribu n e Thursday. "If the union can't absorb Turkey, then we are also looking for the strongest possible alternative bond."
Germany's Angela Merkel, who could possibly be Germany's next chancellor, has been a long-time backer of offering Turkey a "privileged partnership" with the EU.
"We must face the central question of whether the integration power of the current EU is suffering," Merkel said. "I think that Europe can't handle it at the moment, and so I support the option of a privileged partnership."
A Eurobarometer poll in July indicated that 52 percent of Europeans are against offering EU entry to Turkey, with only 35 percent in favor. Public sentiment in France, where voters rejected the European Constitution in May largely because of their opposition to Turkey's accession, is at a low point.
"Turkey is presented like a bitter enemy of Europe," Cengiz Aktar, director of the EU centre at Istanbul's Bahcesehir University, told the AFP news agency. "This has created a bitter and negative environment of which even the most pro-EU circles in Turkey have had enough."
A n kara does n 't guara n tee prese n ce at talks
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to see what the EU offers before promising to talks
Officials in Ankara also warned they would not accept anything other than complete membership and may stay away from the talks if they deem the negotiating terms unsatisfactory.
"It is out of the question that we accept any formula or suggestion other than full membership," foreign ministry spokesman Namik Tan told reporters in Ankara.
Turkey first signed an association agreement with the EU's predecessor in 1963, and has been a formal EU candidate since 1999. Last December EU leaders gave Ankara an initial green light to start talks on Oct. 3.
Turkey meanwhile said it will only decide whether to come to Luxembourg for the start of talks once it has seen what the EU puts on the table.
"It is natural that we shall make the necessary evaluations following the clarification of the negotiating framework and take our final step accordingly," Tan said.