EU to cut some pre-accession money for Turkey, Tusk says
The European Union will cut some of the pre-accession money earmarked for Turkey but stop short of completely halting the membership bid of the country, which it still sees as a strategic partner despite increasingly sour ties.
European Council Chairman Donald Tusk said the EU had agreed in two days of talks in Brussels to either cut or reroute some of the 4.4 billion euros ($5.2 billion) that Ankara was due to receive as part of its accession talks in 2014-20.
“It was a substantive discussion. We want to keep the door open to Ankara, but the current reality in Turkey is making this difficult,” Tusk was quoted as saying by Reuters during a news conference in Brussels.
Merkel presses allies to cut funds for Turkey’s EU bid
Tusk’s comments came after European leaders agreed on Oct. 19 to explore cuts in EU funds to Turkey, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed for action in response to what she described as “unacceptable” Turkish actions violating human rights.
While praising Turkey for taking in Syrian refugees, Merkel stuck with the tougher tone she adopted during her re-election campaign last month, although she stopped short of calling for an outright end to Ankara’s decade-long push to join the bloc.
“We have asked the Commission to make recommendations on changing and reducing the pre-accession aid,” Merkel told reporters after the first day of an EU summit.
“There is no majority for breaking off the talks immediately. On the other hand there is a great deal of skepticism about the current situation. I made the case tonight that we should seek dialogue with Turkey,” she added.
Earlier she said that the rule of law in Turkey was “moving in the wrong direction.”
Other countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, backed a diversion of the funds that EU candidate countries receive while they are in talks to join the bloc.
“Everyone knows that those negotiations are de facto frozen, are de facto almost dead,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference.
Aside from the money that the EU gives Turkey as part of its 2016 migration deal, Ankara is set to receive 4.4 billion euros from the EU between 2014 and 2020.
Some northern countries say aid meant to help Turkey reform politically now makes no sense following the harsh measures taken in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt.
With 50,000 people jailed pending trial, including German-Turkish nationals, EU membership also looks more distant than ever, EU officials say.
Turkey is set to receive almost 500 million euros next year for the EU’s common budget and European governments are discussing how much to limit this without hitting projects such as infrastructure and agriculture.
The European Parliament has proposed reducing the transfer by 50 million euros next year, with another 30 million euros set aside for further cuts should the relationship with Turkey deteriorate even more. A vote is expected on Oct. 25.
“Providing Turkey money for political reforms does not make sense given the situation,” said Siegfried Muresan, a center-right EU lawmaker who is leading the EU budget in the parliament.
However, EU governments are divided, with Poland, Britain and Sweden maintaining their strong support for Turkey’s EU membership and countries such as Austria demanding not just a freeze to accession funds but an end to membership talks.