Given Turkey's NATO membership and its "very important" role in the Middle East, Turkish EU membership would be "in the interest of the Union," Berlusconi said after meeting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Izmir.
Italy's leader said he was confident that under the incoming Czech and Swedish EU Presidencies four – rather than the usual two - new chapters with Turkey could be opened. "They [the Czechs and the Swedish] are Turkey's friends and they intend to speed up the process," Berlusconi said.
He pledged that Rome would try to win over those countries that are opposed to Turkey joining the EU bloc, most notably France, which currently holds the EU presidency. French leader Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly argued that Turkey does not belong to Europe and would be better dealt with by means of a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership.
Berlusconi's statement comes a week after the publication of the European Commission's annual enlargement reports, which criticised Turkey for its "stagnating" reform process and avoided giving any target date for Turkish EU entry (EurActiv 06/11/08).
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn called for the path towards EU membership to be made "irreversible", triggering a sharp response from Turkey-critical MEPs, who stressed that the talks with Turkey were "open-ended".
Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan supported Berlusconi's call to accelerate the accession process, saying his government wanted to end the "routine of opening talks on only two policy chapters" every year. "The engagement period should not be too long," he said.
Since the EU granted Turkey official candidate status in October 2005, eight out of 35 negotiation chapters have been opened, while an additional eight have been frozen due to Turkey's obstructive role in Cypriot reunification talks.
The EU is expected to open two new chapters – on intellectual property law and company law - before the end of the year.