Vernet told Al Jazeera: "Sarkozy will stick to his position and perhaps act more swiftly than we may be expecting."
 
He said: "Sarkozy thinks he could have the support of some [EU] countries who didn't dare block the accession process themselves."

Ruffled feathers

The French position has already angered Ankara.
 

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In late June, the EU and Turkey successfully opened negotiations on two policy issues – known as chapters - but a third was withdrawn under threat of a French veto.

The French delegation argued that the first two chapters fell within a privileged partnership scenario but that the third chapter - the one dealing with Turkish inclusion into the Euro monetary system - implied full membership.
 
Bahadir Kaleagasi, head of the Turkish business association (TUSIAD) in Brussels, is like many Turks annoyed by what he calls Sarkozy's anti-Turkey rhetoric.

He told Al Jazeera a privileged partnership strategy would take EU-Turkey negotiations into "a very unethical and indecent phase".

He said: "It would mean Turkey is being offered the status of a colony to the EU. No democratically-elected Ankara government would agree to be such a 'privileged partner' of the EU."
 
Kaleagasi said Sarkozy's "hardline" position would be considered hostile in Ankara and spark a "cold war" between the two countries.

He said: "It would be a very big hit to the EU's credibility, not only in Turkey but in the entire world."

Autumn report

Possibly further challenging Ankara's membership efforts is a European Commission annual report on Turkey due in October, which is expected to criticise the slow pace of political reforms, especially on freedom of speech.
 
Special report

A series of reports ahead of the country's parliamentary elections

Hakan Altinay, head of the Open Society think-tank in Istanbul, expects a critical report to give the new Turkish government a jolt in the arm.
 
He said: "The autumn EU progress report will say nothing has been done, and so will help Sarkozy. It will also be an incentive for the Turkish government - after the elections - to get back to business."

European diplomats admit they still do not know whether Sarkozy will use the autumn report to slow down membership talks or go for the 'nuclear' option and block them entirely.

Seeking middle ground

But they do agree that if France does decide to torpedo the negotiations, this will cause problems both within the Union and beyond.

Gary Titley, a British Labour MEP, told Al Jazeera: "If Sarkozy blocks the talks, then the EU has got a big crisis … It would be a catastrophic day for the EU."
 
Hoping to avert such an impasse, diplomats in Brussels are drawing up plans to find middle ground.

The French president opposes Turkey's
entry in the EU [AFP]
Sarkozy himself has said he wants a new discussion to determine where the EU's borders lie – seen as a coded way of affirming that Turkey is not a European country.

European observers think a debate over the EU's borders would allow Sarkozy to save face with French voters who supported his position on Turkey, while not actually drawing any precise lines on a map – a classic EU 'fudge', in other words.
 
Antonio Missiroli, an analyst with the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels, told Al Jazeera: "France will raise the issue of the ultimate borders of the EU and this discussion could conclude that there is room for the Balkans, perhaps even one day for Ukraine and adopt a 'let's see' approach on Turkey."

"This could be a way for Sarkozy to say he is fighting his battle and keeping his election promise while at the same time have negotiations ongoing."

'No aggression'

But Cengiz Aktar, a prominent Istanbul columnist, believes EU negotiations have already ground to a standstill.

He said: "After the Turkish elections, the EU process needs to restart. But it takes two to tango and the EU is not there any more."

Aktar says he thinks 'de facto' the two sides are already negotiating a privileged partnership.
 
Greece's foreign ministry is said to be drawing up contingency plans for a 'privileged partnership' in the event of a crisis.

Selma Acuner, an Ankara-based academic, agrees that a renewed political commitment from both sides is needed in the coming months.

She said: "What is vitally needed in Turkey-EU relations is a better mutual understanding by all sides ... with no 'aggressive' approaches, as in Sarkozy's approach during the French presidential elections."

"There have to be concrete and sincere attitudes from the new Turkish government and from the Commission and EU member states."

Source: Al Jazeera