Merkel presses allies to cut funds for Turkey’s EU bid

Angela Merkel is seen leaving after the first day of an European leaders summit in Brussels on October 20, 2017. (AFP / Aurore Belot)
Updated 20 October 2017
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Merkel presses allies to cut funds for Turkey’s EU bid

BRUSSELS: European leaders agreed on Thursday to explore cuts in EU funds to Turkey that are linked to Ankara’s stalled bid to join the bloc after German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed for action in response to what she described as “unacceptable” Turkish behavior on human rights.
While praising Turkey for taking in Syrian refugees, Merkel stuck with the tougher tone she adopted during her reelection campaign last month, although she stopped short of calling for an outright end to Ankara’s decade-long push to join the bloc.
“We asked the Commission to make recommendations on changing and reducing the pre-accession aid,” Merkel told reporters after the first day of an EU summit.
“There is no majority for breaking off the talks immediately. On the other hand there is a great deal of skepticism about the current situation. I made the case tonight that we should seek dialogue with Turkey.”
Earlier she 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.
Other countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, backed a diversion of the funds that EU candidate countries receive while they are in talks to join the bloc.
“Everyone knows that those negotiations are de facto frozen, are de facto almost dead,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel told a news conference.
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.
But the scope of Erdogan’s response to last year’s coup attempt, his detention of US and European citizens including dual nationals, and his jibes at Germany and the Netherlands for what he has called “Nazi-like” behavior.
Aside from money that the EU gives Turkey as part of its 2016 migration deal, Ankara is set to receive 4.4 billion euros from the EU between 2014 and 2020.
Some northern countries say aid meant to help Turkey reform politically now makes no sense because Ankara has cracked down so dramatically after the failed coup.
With 50,000 people jailed pending trial, including German-Turkish nationals, EU membership also looks more distant than ever, EU officials say.
Turkey is set to receive almost 500 million euros next year for the EU’s common budget and European governments are discussing how much to limit that while not hitting projects such as infrastructure and agriculture.
The European Parliament has proposed reducing the transfer by 50 million euros next year, with another 30 million euros set aside for further cuts should the relationship with Turkey deteriorate even more. A vote is expected on Wednesday.
“Providing Turkey money for political reforms does not make sense given the situation,” said Siegfried Muresan, a center-right EU lawmaker who is leading EU budget in the parliament.
However, EU governments are divided, with Poland, Britain and Sweden maintaining their strong support for Turkey’s EU membership and countries such as Austria demanding not just a freeze to accession funds but an end to membership talks. (Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)


Israeli planes strike Hamas targets in Gaza

Updated 18 June 2018
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Israeli planes strike Hamas targets in Gaza

  • The attacks targeted two Hamas military sites and a munitions manufacturing site
  • “Fire balloons” and kites carrying flammable material have become symbols of the Palestinian border protests in recent months

JERUSALEM: Israeli warplanes on Monday conducted strikes against nine Hamas “military targets” in the northern Gaza Strip in response to incendiary kites being sent into Israeli territory, the army said.
The attacks targeted two Hamas military sites and a munitions manufacturing site, the military said in a statement, without specifying whether the raids had resulted in casualties.
“Fire balloons” and kites carrying flammable material have become symbols of the Palestinian border protests in recent months.
The Israeli army on Saturday wounded two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attempting to launch incendiary balloons across the border into Israel, officials said.
Since major border protests broke out at the end of March, more than 300 fires have devastated several thousand hectares of fields and shrubland, the Israeli fire service has said.
According to Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 400 kites have been intercepted from some 600 launched since the start of the recent protests.
At least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in the same time span. No Israelis have been killed.
Palestinians are calling to return to the homes their families fled or were forced from in 1948 during the war surrounding the creation of Israel.
The Gaza Strip is controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas which Israel considers its chief enemy.
The two sides have fought three wars since 2008 and observe a tense cease-fire.