Herman Van Rompuy, the Belgian prime minister who is the frontrunner to be the European Union’s first full-time president, is a firm opponent of Turkey’s EU membership bid, according to a speech he made in 2004.

The disclosure appears unlikely to torpedo Mr Van Rompuy’s candidacy, but it might matter much more if he won the presidency, because the EU has been conducting accession talks with Turkey since 2005 and is officially committed to embracing the nation as a full member.

Details of Mr Van Rompuy’s speech emerged on the eve of a summit of the EU’s 27 national leaders, starting at 5:15pm Brussels time, at which they will seek to break the deadlock over whom to appoint as the president and the bloc’s new foreign policy chief.

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe,” Mr Van Rompuy said during a meeting held at the Belgian parliament in December 2004.

“An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion, as in the past. The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are also fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.”

Mr Van Rompuy’s speech puts him squarely on the side of Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, and Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, both of whom are willing to offer Turkey a “privileged partnership” but want to keep the country out of the EU.

The UK, one of the EU’s most influential voices on foreign policy, and Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency, are both supporters of Turkey’s entry into the EU, however.

EU diplomats said the UK government was already aware of Mr Van Rompuy’s opinions but did not regard them as a decisive issue in the debate over who should be the first full-time president.

There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Mr Van Rompuy in Turkish official circles, where the preference would be not only for someone with more positive views on enlargement, but also for a bigger hitter who would give Europe more weight on the world stage. Turkey, which has been playing an increasingly prominent role in regional diplomacy, argues that foreign policy is one of the areas where it can contribute most to the Union, and wants an EU leader with international clout.

A popular name in Ankara is that of Finland’s Martti Ahtisaari, the Nobel laureate who recently penned a report calling on European countries hostile to Turkey’s membership bid to honour their commitments. Despite widespread public opposition to the invasion of Iraq, Tony Blair is also recognised as a strong supporter of Turkish accession.

Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkish foreign minister, has been touring European capitals this month, aiming to convince people that French and German scepticism and Turkey’s own new friendships in the Middle East have done nothing to reduce Ankara’s commitment to EU accession. ”I can give you a hundred reasons why Turkey is part of European culture,” Mr Davutoglu told an audience in Madrid. ”You cannot understand the history of at least 15 European countries without exploring the Ottoman archives.”

The UK is supporting the candidacy of Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister who was a vocal supporter of Turkish membership while in office. Diplomats say Mr Sarkozy, once a Blair supporter, and Ms Merkel have agreed that the Belgian is a suitable candidate.

Additional reporting Delphine Strauss in Ankara

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