On a diplomatic tour of Europe, French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his opposition to Turkey's EU membership bid. The newly elected French leader also championed the idea of a "simplified treaty" for the EU.
Should Turkey join the EU? France's Sarkozy thinks not
Nicolas Sarkozy hasn't been in office for three weeks, but his policy offensive to reclaim France's leadership in the European Union is in full swing.
On a diplomatic tour of European countries, Sarkozy championed the idea of a "simplified treaty" to replace the failed EU constitution. European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said the idea was gaining support.
"(Sarkozy) was the first to suggest the idea of a simplified treaty, and today we see that there is a consensus forming around this idea," Barroso told reporters at a joint press conference with Sarkozy.
The French president also took the opportunity of his first visit to Brussels since taking power on May 6 to reaffirm his opposition to Turkey's bid to join the European Union.
Sarkozy and Barroso have differing views on Turkey
"I don't see how you can be a candidate with one opinion and a president with another," Sarkozy said. "I don't think that Turkey has a place in the Union," he concluded, but added that he did not want to dwell on the issue at present.
"The question doesn't arise at present and we already have enough on our plate," Sarkozy explained.
Barroso stressed that his European Commission was "in favor of negotiations with Turkey," but concurred with Sarkozy that "right now, our absolute priority is the treaty, the resolution of the institutional crisis."
Constitution, mini-treaty, simplified treaty
On the EU's institutional gridlock, the French president said a European summit next month would be a success "if the 27 (EU member states) are in agreement for a simplified treaty."
In France, such a treaty could be submitted for approval by the parliament in order to avoid a repeat of the 2005 popular referenda that cut down the now moribund EU constitution.
After French voters rejected the original constitution, France found itself playing an increasingly marginal role in the club of architects of the new Europe. Sarkozy's government now wants to reclaim France's leadership in the EU, a campaign promise that had been trumpeted by both Sarkozy and runner-up Ségolène Royal.
Last year, Sarkozy had used the term "mini-treaty" to describe what he felt would be an acceptable constitutional framework for the EU. The French leader said he recognized now that "mini-treaty" lacks ambition.
Eighteen member states have ratified the original constitution, which was deemed necessary to bring EU institutions up to date in the expanded bloc. But any new treaty will have to revisit some controversial topics, such as references to "shared values," which were understood by some observers as a coded exclusion of Turkey from the EU club.
"We must work together"
Erdogan called Sarkozy to propose a get-together
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan phoned Sarkozy on Thursday, according to Reuters. The news agency cited "sources in Erdogan's office" who said Erdogan congratulated the French leader on his victory at the polls and suggested the two should work together directly.
"We must not communicate via media statements," Erdogan's aides told Reuters. "(We must) work together with direct talks."
For his part, Sarkozy offered his condolences for a bomb attack in Ankara on Tuesday, which killed six people and wounded dozens more in the worst bombing in the Turkish capital in at least a decade.
Sarkozy said he wanted to work together with Erdogan to overcome their common problems, the sources told Reuters. The heads of state went on to discuss cooperation between France and Turkey, a NATO member, on a broad range of economic, political and military issues.
But on the campaign trail, Sarkozy made it clear that he was staunchly opposed to Turkey's accession to the EU. He has instead proposed a Mediterranean union for Turkey and its neighbors. French Secretary of State for European Affairs Jean-Pierre Jouyet has not ruled out a French veto of further entry talks.
Turkey began negotiating for membership with the EU in 2005. The talks are expected to last 10 to 15 years. So far, Turkey and the EU have successfully completed one of the 35 policy chapters required for accession.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has also spoken out against Turkey's membership bid, preferring instead what she termed a "privileged partnership" with Germany and the EU.
As rotating EU President, Merkel has been more cautious in her assertions vis-à-vis Turkey. And in Brussels, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn reiterated the EU's plans to continue accession talks with Turkey.
"We have a sound negotiating mandate with Turkey," Rehn said. He added: "If we succeed -- if Turkey succeeds -- Turkey can become an even more important bridge of civilizations than it is today."
"Strasbourg is non-negotiable"
The European parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France
Sarkozy also rejected calls to shut down the EU parliament's Strasbourg seat.
"Strasbourg is non-negotiable, it is part of Europe's founding balances," Sarkozy said.
European members of parliament currently commute between the two chambers in Strasbourg and Brussels, prompting calls from some MPs to consolidate the chambers into one city to save time and resources, and to reduce carbon dioxide emissions caused by frequent travel.
Sarkozy is set to travel to Spain next week as part of his comprehensive diplomatic drive. In Madrid, he is scheduled to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.