October 25, 2017 / 3:57 PM / 3 years ago

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

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Parliament proposed on Wednesday to reduce EU funds to Turkey that are linked to its stalled bid to join the bloc, a call EU leaders are expected to back given a deteriorating relations with Ankara.

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 should be cut at 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 centre-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 earmarked 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 Turkish behavior on human rights as “unacceptable” in Brussels last Thursday.

The European Parliament’s decision came on the first day of the trial in Istanbul of 11 human rights activists in Turkey, including a German and a Swedish national.

At the EU summit, Merkel said that the rule of law in Turkey was “moving in the wrong direction”, in a reference to the large-scale purge that President Tayyip Erdogan has carried out following a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

While the EU condemned the coup attempt, the scope of Erdogan’s response, his detention of U.S. and European citizens including dual nationals, and his jibes at Germany for what he has called “Nazi-like” behavior have soured EU-Turkey ties.

Erdogan says the purges across society are necessary to maintain stability in a NATO country bordering Iraq and Syria.

Launched in 2005 after decades of seeking the formal start of an EU membership bid, Ankara’s membership negotiations were always sensitive for France and Germany because of Turkey’s status as a large, mainly Muslim country.

They are not officially frozen, despite calls from Austria to formally scrap Turkey’s EU membership program. That is in part because the EU relies on Ankara to take in Syrian refugees in return for billions of euros of aid.

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 money that 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.

Reporting by Gilbert Reilhac; writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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