As various media outlets reported over the weekend, the European Union has drastically cut its aid pledges to Turkey for the year 2020. The EU’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell is said to have announced this in a letter to the European Parliament. As the rationale, Borrell cited the dispute over resources in the Mediterranean and Ankara’s military offensive in Syria.
The aid the EU has been paying to Turkey is the so-called IPA program, the pre-accession aid, support for Turkey’s future EU membership, which has been in doubt as of late. According to the reports, 75 percent of the initially planned allocation has been canceled, reducing payments to Turkey this year to 168 million euros. According to the European Commission, 150 million euros of it will be allocated towards the advancement of democracy and the rule of law, while 18 million euros are being allocated towards Turkey’s rural development program.
With the pre-accession aid, the EU seeks to support the reform process of the candidate countries and improve their competitiveness. The accession negotiations with Turkey have been on hold for years, with the EU accusing Ankara of an erosion of the rule of law in the country. The payments, which should initially amount to 3.5 billion euros in the period 2014 to 2020, have thus been controversial in the past years.
Borrell justified the EU’s current reduction with the unauthorized gas drilling of Turkey off the coast of EU member Cyprus as well as with Turkey’s military operation in northeast Syria, which started in October. Nonetheless, in his letter, according to initial reports, Borrell emphasized that EU aid remains relevant due to the positive impact it could continue to make.
Moreover, the payments that the EU makes to Turkey under the refugee agreement remained unaffected by the cuts. According to the European External Action Service, the reduction of funds from the so-called IPA program had already started in 2017 and was reduced by 1.2 billion euros. The Foreign Affairs Council made the last decision on further reductions in October 2019. The EU Commission had made a corresponding proposal.
However, on Sunday, the European External Action Service responded to the reports and the 75% cuts. According to this, Josep Borrell did not send a letter to the European Parliament. Instead, the media reports were based on a response from the Commission to questions from a member of parliament in October 2019. All interpretations that link the reply letter and current events were thus false and misleading. Essentially, the reply states that no decrease in funds would occur besides the reduction of IPA funds from 2017, which had already been imposed.
After more than a decade of complicated talks, Ankara and Brussels negotiated an agreement amidst an unprecedented influx of refugees into the European Union. Turkey agreed to prevent refugees from attempting to move from their coasts to Greece, while the EU would provide funding and accelerate Turkey’s accession negotiations. However, talks have stalled recently, as Turkey has been accused of not adhering to its part of the agreement and the number of refugees entering the EU via Turkey having doubled in the past year.
The EU has also raised concerns about increasing authoritarianism from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while Ankara’s role in Syria and the gas controversy do not make future talks any more comfortable. Moreover, Erdogan has recently repeatedly threatened member states such as Germany to open the borders for refugees into Europe despite the agreements.
The next few days will bring clarity as to whether the initial reports regarding the cuts were indeed incorrect. It would, however, would not come as a surprise if the aid had indeed been decreased, due to the continuous decline of EU and Turkish relations in recent years. Turkey has been officially recognized as a candidate for full membership of the European Union since 1999, and negotiations started in 2005. Nevertheless, Turkey’s EU membership is arguably more inconceivable than ever before at this stage.