By Ayhan Simsek
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has suggested reducing EU pre-accession funds to Turkey instead of calling for an end to Ankara’s EU membership process.
Speaking ahead of a key summit of EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday, Merkel announced a finely-tuned position on future ties between the EU and Turkey.
“I would advocate for restricting EU pre-accession funding for Turkey,” Merkel said, and expressed dismay at the continued detention of around a dozen German citizens in Turkey on suspicion of aiding terrorist organizations.
Merkel said she had demanded a discussion among EU leaders on the human rights situation in Turkey, and the future of Ankara’s EU membership process.
However, despite calls by major German parties to end Turkey’s EU membership talks, Merkel avoided bringing such a proposal to the agenda.
Merkel underlined that EU member states should preserve their unity, and take a unified position on Turkey.
Despite calls by German social democrats and liberals to immediately halt Ankara’s EU membership talks and freeze €4 billion ($4.68 billion) in pre-accession funds, a majority of EU member states turned down such proposals, and backed dialogue with Ankara.
Any decision to terminate Turkey’s membership talks would require unanimity among all EU member states. So far only Austria has openly backed freezing Turkey’s EU membership talks.
Merkel praised Turkey’s help for refugees
While criticizing Ankara over disagreements on issues of democracy and the rule of law, Merkel praised Turkey’s efforts for Syrian refugees, and reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to the EU-Turkey refugee deal.
“Turkey has made an exceptional contribution for the refugees,” she stressed and called on EU member states to honor their commitments under the deal.
“We have promised an additional €3 billion for the next years, in addition to the €3 billion which is already made available,” she said.
“We should comply with our promise,” Merkel added, adding that this funding was used to improve the living conditions of refugees.
Merkel has long been a key supporter of the EU-Turkey agreement clinched in March 2016, which aimed at discouraging the irregular migration through the Aegean Sea by establishing stricter measures against human traffickers and improving the conditions of nearly three million Syrian refugees in Turkey.
Although the plan has successfully reduced irregular migration flows and came as a significant relief for Merkel in domestic politics, the EU has failed to timely deliver the promised funds.
As of June 2017, the EU signed contracts for 48 projects of which the total worth surpassed €1.6 billion ($1.9 billion). So far, €811 million ($977 million) of the pledged €3 billion was disbursed.
According to the EU-Turkey agreement, European states have to mobilize an additional €3 billion in funding by the end of 2018.
Turkey hosts more Syrian refugees than any other country in the world. Ankara says it has spent more than €20 billion ($24.1 billion) from its own national resources for helping and sheltering refugees since the beginning of the Syrian civil war.