European Council President Donald Tusk says the 28-member politico-economic bloc will reduce some of the money earmarked for Turkey to join the union, reflecting increasingly strained ties with the Ankara government.
Tusk told a news conference on Friday that the bloc had agreed in two days of talks in Brussels to cut or reroute some of the 4.4 billion euros ($5.2 bln) Ankara was due to get as part of its accession talks in 2014-20.
“It was a substantive discussion. We want to keep the door open to Ankara, but the current reality in Turkey is making this difficult,” he stated.
Tusk’s comments came after European leaders reached an agreement on October 19 to explore cuts in EU funds to Turkey.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for the measure in response to what she described as Turkey’s “unacceptable” violation of human rights
“We have asked the Commission to make recommendations on changing and reducing the pre-accession aid,” Merkel told reporters.
Turkey has been trying to become an EU member since the 1960s. Formal EU accession talks began in 2005, but the process has been plagued by problems.
The EU has opened 16 out of the 35 chapters required for Turkey to join the 28-nation bloc, but only one of them has so far been concluded.
Turkey and the European Union sealed a deal in March 2016 to stem the flow of refugees to Europe in return for financial and political rewards for Ankara.
Aside from the money that the EU gives Turkey as part of the accord, the Turkish government is set to receive 4.4 billion euros from the EU between 2014 and 2020.
Some European countries argue that aid meant to help Turkey reform politically now makes no sense as Turkish officials are pressing ahead with a heavy-handed crackdown and restive measures in the wake of the July 2016 coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Tens of thousands of people have been arrested in Turkey on suspicion of having links to Gulen and the failed coup. More than 110,000 others, including military staff, civil servants and journalists have been sacked or suspended from work over the same accusations.
The international community and rights groups have been highly critical of the Turkish president over the massive dismissals and the crackdown.
Turkey is set to receive almost 500 million euros next year for the EU’s common budget. The European Parliament has suggested reducing the transfer by 50 million euros next year, with another 30 million euros set aside for further cuts should the relationship with Turkey gets further worse.