French President Jacques Chirac said Thursday that he is opposed to Turkey's entry into the European Union at this time, but in a rare news conference, Mr. Chirac did offer qualified support for Ankara's joining the EU eventually.

President Chirac said Turkey's entry into the union is, in his words, "certainly not desirable in the short term." He did indicate that could change in the future.

Mr. Chirac said that Ankara does not currently meet EU membership criteria, but he added that Turkey's joining the union should be what he described as a European vocation.

He said his conviction is that it is something for the long term.

Turkey has long desired EU membership, but the European Union has insisted that Ankara first must reform and improve its record on human rights. The European Union has said it will announce later this year whether Turkey has made enough progress on this front to allow the union to set a date for opening membership talks.

At his news conference, President Chirac made an impassioned defense of the European Union, which will admit 10 new members, most of them former communist states. On Saturday, this will bring the union's membership to 25.

Mr. Chirac described his vision of a future European Union as a champion of human liberties and rights and of values such as social justice and sustainable development. He said that Europe is first a community of human beings, before being a community of markets.

He also called on the French themselves to pay more attention to the European Union, starting with turning out to vote in the European parliamentary elections in June. Polls suggest that only about one-third of eligible European voters intend to take part in that ballot.

France spearheaded the post-World War II creation of the European Union and has played a key role in drafting a future EU constitution and deciding who will be its next members.

However, the issue of membership for Turkey has divided France and several other European countries.

At his news conference, Mr. Chirac also refused to take a stance on another sensitive issue, whether France should hold a referendum on a proposed European Union constitution.

EU foreign ministers hope to reach agreement on a draft constitution in June and Mr. Chirac said it was premature to consider whether to hold a popular referendum or have France's parliament vote on an EU constitution, when it is not yet clear what that constitution would contain.