EU-Turkey discord continues over aid to Syrians

EU-Turkey discord continues over aid to Syrians

Selin Nasi - LISBON
EU-Turkey discord continues over aid to Syrians

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Disagreement between Turkey and the European Union continues over the bloc’s pledge to assist Syrian refugees, as a member of the Turkish cabinet has said Ankara was yet to receive any financial support, contrary to claims that the EU has sent 2 billion euros.

Talking to the press during his meetings in Lisbon, Turkey’s EU minister and chief negotiator with the bloc, Ömer Çelik, indicated they had not received any financial support from the EU as part of the refugee deal.

“Many countries have been resorting to fortifying their borders with barbed wire fences or armed guards to prevent migrants’ crossing, while Turkey embraced 3 million refugees purely for humanitarian reasons and has spent about $25 billion since then,” said Çelik.

Çelik expressed his concern about the channeling of funds transferred to UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations by the EU. “We do not regard any financial aid as legitimate unless the EU deposits the amount in a bank account belonging to the Health Ministry or AFAD [the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority].”

Meanwhile, the coup and its aftermath dominated Çelik’s talks in Lisbon.

“The meetings with the EU leaders have proved efficient so far,” said Çelik. “As of today, there is a consensus built in Europe that leaves no doubt that the failed coup was planned by FETÖ [the Fethullahist Terror Organization].”

When asked what had changed since July 15 in the minds of EU leaders, Çelik indicated that EU leaders had come to acknowledge that their failure to stand firmly by Turkey against the failed coup attempt was due to a clear lack of vision. According to Çelik, the essence of the problem lay in the rhetoric embraced by European countries, which have prioritized domestic political interests over common EU interests – something that undermined dialogue between Turkey and the EU.

“We have watched the rise of the far-right in Europe with concern. Especially when the elections are nearing, the mainstream parties have embraced an anti-Turkey rhetoric so as to appeal to the far-right constituency. Yet, their strategies are counterproductive,” he said.

Çelik also argued that Turkey was a critical ally against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), highlighting the ideological aspects of the fight. “What our European allies should come to notice is the fact that Turkey is a democratic country [in concert with] the European identity and has had a strong claim of representing Muslims throughout history. Thus, Turkey’s combating against Daesh [ISIL] – an organization which abuses Islam – sends a strong message to the Islamic world.”

As for the contentious topic of visa liberalization, no specific date was given to Turkey as to when or if the deal would be put into force. This week, German media claimed that a deal had been reached between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and German Chancellor Angela Merkel over postponing the visa-free deal until the end of 2016. When asked whether or not there was any truth to those claims, Çelik said: “The due date for the visa-free deal has already passed. It is a key issue for us, and therefore it should be realized at once.”