France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy has said Turkey has no place in the European Union, had refused to allow mention of “accession conferences”, the usual wording for talks with candidate nations Turkey and Croatia.
Sweden, which champions Turkish membership, had wanted the term kept in a statement issued by EU foreign ministers, arguing that France’s stance was a backward step.
In the end a statement agreed in Brussels on Monday spoke only of “intergovernmental conferences”.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt nevertheless told reporters that there had been “the very broad manifestation of the very broad support for the process for enlargement.”
He pointed out that the final text included the phrase “in line with the enlargement strategy” agreed by EU leaders a year ago.
At the time the EU member states agreed that they were open to further enlargement without the mention of “absorption capacity” which Paris had wanted.
The dispute had threatened to delay next week’s talks with Turkey at which negotiations will open on another two of the 35 policy chapters which all candidate nations must successfully complete prior to membership.
So far Turkey, which began EU negotiations in October 2005, has successfully closed just one chapter and eight remain frozen due to Ankara’s refusal to deal normally with EU member Cyprus.
The EU ministers, in their statement, welcomed Ankara’s resolution of its political and constitution crisis.
However they voiced regret at “the limited progress achieved in political reform in Turkey” and called for further efforts on corruption, minority and women’s rights and civilian control of the military.
The ministers also noted that Turkey “has not made progress towards normalisation of relations with the Republic of Cyprus”.
Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia and refuses to fully open its ports and airports to the divided island.
The message was more positive for Croatia, which began its candidate process at the same time as Turkey but has since powered ahead and looks set to become the 28th EU nation in 2009.
The ministers commended Croatia “for the overall progress it continued to make in the past year,” adding that “negotiations are on the right track”.