BRUSSELS — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday led calls for a cut to EU funding linked to Turkey’s membership talks, to signal the bloc’s unhappiness at Ankara’s crackdown in the wake of a failed coup.
In the latest round of a bitter spat between Berlin and Ankara, the powerful German leader said it was important the EU acted in unity to defend its values, at a summit in Brussels.
Turkey, whose application to join the EU is effectively frozen, has alarmed European leaders with its hardline response to a thwarted bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.
More than 50,000 people have been arrested since the coup bid, including several German citizens, drawing strong criticism from Berlin.
"I’m going to work for EU pre-membership funding, which we are giving, to be reduced," Merkel said, adding that for her it was a "central demand" that the bloc acted together on the issue.
"The changes to the rule of law in Turkey are going in our opinion in a bad direction and we have some major concerns -- and not just because a lot of Germans have been arrested."
Merkel caused a stir during her recent reelection campaign with a pledge to try to get EU leaders to terminate Turkey’s membership bid.
Other EU nations have trod more carefully, noting Turkey’s vital importance to the bloc both in tackling the migrant crisis and in fighting Islamist militancy.
But several voiced criticism of Turkey at Thursday’s meeting, with Belgian PM Charles Michel saying Ankara’s membership bid was "frozen, on the point of death".
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Turkey was "a long way from membership and will remain so", but the two Low Countries leaders called for "reorientating" funds rather than cutting them.
Rutte said the aim would be "that the money moves away from the government to go towards areas such as migration and Turkish charities".
EU member states are waiting for a European Commission assessment of funding for Turkey -- most of which already goes to NGOs or projects -- in early 2018.
Europe plans 4.45 billion euros in pre-accession spending for Turkey in 2014-2020, but only 360 million euros have been allocated so far. — AFP