EU lawmakers propose cuts in aid to Turkey tied to membership bid

EU lawmakers propose cuts in aid to Turkey tied to membership bid

EU lawmakers propose cuts in aid to Turkey tied to membership bid

The European Parliament proposed on Oct. 25 to reduce European Union funds to Turkey that are linked to its stalled bid to join the bloc, a call EU leaders are expected to back.

Of the 217 million euros set to go to Turkey for reforms, infrastructure and agriculture in 2018, EU lawmakers agreed to cut up to 80 million euros. Of that, 50 million euros will be cut first, with a further 30-million-euro reduction if Turkey does not improve its human rights record.

“Turkey is not respecting freedom of speech, freedom of expression, human rights and is drifting further away from European democratic standards,” said center-right lawmaker Siegfried Muresan, who led the budget discussions.

“We cannot pretend we don’t see that,” he told Reuters, emphasizing that the cuts would affect only the money ear-marked for political reforms, not for infrastructure and farming.

EU leaders must still sign off on the cuts but are expected to do so after an agreement at a summit last week to reduce the so-called pre-accession aid that is meant to help EU candidate countries prepare for membership.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pressed for action on Turkey during her re-election campaign, described Turkey’s stance on human rights as “unacceptable” in Brussels last week.

At the EU summit, Merkel said the rule of law in Turkey was “moving in the wrong direction.”

Ankara’s membership negotiations are not officially frozen, despite calls from Austria to formally scrap Turkey’s EU membership program.

But a majority of EU countries, led by Germany and the Netherlands, say it no longer makes sense to fund political reforms in Turkey when formal EU membership talks have not taken place since last year.

Aside from the money the EU gives Turkey as part of its 2016 migration deal, Ankara was set to receive 4.4 billion euros from the EU between 2014 and 2020. Some EU governments want that money to go to non-governmental groups in Turkey, not to Ankara.

Meanwhile, the EU migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said on Oct. 26 that the European Union remains committed to a key border deal with Turkey that has led to a large drop in migrant flows to Europe.

“The EU-Turkey statement works and continues to work: the arrivals through the Eastern Mediterranean have been drastically reduced since it came into force,” Avramopoulos told Bulgarian Standart daily newspaper in an interview published on Oct. 26.

“The EU needs Turkey and Turkey needs the EU, if we want to truly manage this challenge together,” he said, also insisting that “working with key third countries, including not only the north and Horn of Africa, but also with our western Balkan neighbors, is essential.”

“So far there have been around 146,000 arrivals by sea to Europe in 2017, compared to more than double last year,” he said ahead of meetings between the EU and Balkan state ministers in Sofia.

Around 8,300 migrants arrived by sea in October, compared to more than 31,000 in October 2016 and more than 221,000 in October 2015.

“This shows an overall reduction of almost 75 percent in one year—or more than 95 percent compared to the same period in 2015,” Avramopoulos said.