European Union foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said on Friday that accession talks with Turkey have not been halted and she still wants Ankara to join, if it can meet necessary conditions.
Her remarks, following a EU foreign ministers meeting in Malta, came after recent calls from some countries that negotiations over Turkey's potential membership of the bloc should be stopped.
The talks highlighted sharp differences on ties with Ankara after a referendum to reform Turkey's political system.
"The accession process continues. It is not suspended, nor ended, but as you might know, we are currently not working on opening any new negotiation chapter (for membership of the European Union) chapter," Mogherini said.
Speaking on the sidelines of the summit in Malta, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said he sensed a "positive atmosphere" from leading European lawmakers regarding Turkey's talks to join the bloc. He said dialogue between the two sides would continue.
Cavusoglu also said Austria should turn back from its "wrong policy" regarding Turkey's talks of joining the EU.
France and Germany seek new ties
EU lawmakers called this week for a formal suspension of Turkey's long-stalled EU bid, saying it does not meet democratic standards.
Austria reiterated its demand that negotiations be ditched at the Malta summit.
But France and Germany sought a new deal with Turkey on Friday to repair relations with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said he was "strictly against" annulling Turkey's decade-long bid for EU membership.
After a day of talks, he said the real issue was to ensure the bloc had a new, looser agreement to offer Turkey before ditching the EU accession process.
"It does not improve things by cancelling something before we have something new to offer," Gabriel said.
"We can try to open new channels for negotiations," he said, referring to an idea to broaden the European Union's trade ties with Turkey, giving Turkish companies greater tariff-free access to the bloc's 500 million citizens.
That could soften any political blow from a formal suspension of accession talks, EU officials said.
Since its launch in 2005, the entry process has helped Turkey win foreign investment and become the world's 15th largest economy, EU officials say. But talks have since stalled.
Ending Turkey's accession to the EU is sensitive as the West worries about isolating an important NATO ally that straddles Europe and Asia.
Also, the EU is Turkey's biggest foreign investor and biggest trading partner, while Turkey shares a border with Iraq, Syria and with Russia in the Black Sea.