Spending on Turkey has failed to address key democratic, media problems: EU watchdog
European Union funding to help Turkey’s stalled membership bid has “barely addressed” key problems with democracy and the media, the bloc’s spending watchdog has said.
EU financial assistance planned for Turkey from 2007 until 2020 through the Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance amounts to over 9 billion euros ($11 billion), the European Court of Auditors said in a March 13 statement.
It focused on the priority sectors of the rule of law, governance and human resources (education, employment and social policies), to which 3.8 billion euros ($4.7 billion) had been allocated.
But the watchdog slammed the European Commission for failing to attach conditions to the funds.
“EU financial assistance for Turkey had only limited effect,” the report stated. “The funds spent have barely addressed a number of fundamental needs.”
The watchdog said the results of the spending “may not be sustainable because of difficulties in spending the funds and backsliding on reforms.”
Turkish ambitions to join the EU date back over half a century but accession talks started in October 2005, after which Brussels started channeling so-called pre-accession funds to Ankara.
Brussels has allocated 4.5 billion euros ($55.7 billion) for Ankara to prepare the country for membership in its current multi-year budget for 2014-2020. From 2007-2013 it allocated 4.6 billion euros ($56.9 billion).
The court report author Bettina Jakobsen said that while the overall program was “well designed,” funding had been particularly ineffective when it came to the independence of the judicial system, fighting corruption and media freedom.
These are “areas where critical reforms in Turkey are overdue,” she said, adding that EU funding should target them in future.
Jakobsen said the European Commission “rarely used the possibility of taking over” their management from Turkey when the money did not achieve the right results.
“From 2018 onwards, the Commission should better target funding for Turkey in areas where reforms are overdue and necessary for credible progress towards EU accession,” she said.
At the Turkish end, the ECA blamed delays on a lack of the right staff in key ministries and excessive turnover at the contracts unit which manages most EU funds.
She complained about “a lack of political will” by Turkish authorities.
The ECA report will be sent to the European Parliament’s budget control committee.
Ties between Turkey and the EU ties have been strained of late, with Brussels criticizing Turkey over rights and media freedom in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt. More than 140,000 people have been suspended or sacked in Turkey over alleged links to coup plotters.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out last year Turkey’s EU membership “for the foreseeable future.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says the measures are necessary to counter the multiple security threats Turkey faces, while calling on the EU to open chapters of negotiations in the accession process.
The country’s EU Minister Ömer Çelik said in January that Turkey would reject any offer of “partnership” with the European Union that falls short of membership, warning that the current impasse gave Turkey no reason to maintain its migrant deal with the bloc.