EU meeting in Brussels comes amid deteriorating relations and calls to freeze Ankara’s EU membership bid.
The European Union will cut funds allocated to Turkey due to the “deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights” there, according to a European Parliament (EP) statement.
The bloc will shrink the so-called “pre-ascension funds” for Turkey by 105m euros ($124m) and suspend an additional 70m euros in the 2018 budget, the statement said on Saturday.
Ankara is entitled to receive 4.45 billion euros from the EU between 2014 and 2020 in the framework of the bloc’s “Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance”.
The Council of the EU and the EP, the two legislative institutions of the bloc, still need to formally approve the new budget.
“Concerning Turkey, MEPs made sure to cut pre-accession funds by 105 million euros (with a further €70 million in commitments put in reserve), as they consider the deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights worrying,” the statement by the EP said, referring to its members as MEPs.
Many of the EU member states have been in condemnation of the Turkish government’s arrests and purges of tens of thousands of people after a failed coup attempt in July 2016.
Local and international rights groups have accused the government of using the coup attempt as a pretext to silence opposition in the country.
The government has said that the purges and detentions aimed to remove from state institutions and other parts of society the supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based, self-exiled religious leader on whom Ankara blames the attempted coup.
“For those … that depart from our democratic standards and breach fundamental rights, we have sent a clear message that the money that the EU provides cannot come without strings attached,” MEP Siegfred Muresan the rapporteur for the 2018 general budget, told reporters after the announcement of the deal.
Ravza Kavakci Kan, a deputy chairperson of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), said Ankara takes the EU membership and its relations with the bloc seriously, despite, what she called Turkey’s unfair treatment by the bloc.
“The EU, as well as some member states, have not been acting fair in their attitude towards Turkey for a while now. We can see it in decisions taken against Turkey by the EP as well as some national parliaments. This situation bothers us,” Kavakci Kan, who is also a member of Turkish parliament’s committee on EU harmonisation, told Al Jazeera.
“We do not accept the accusations made by the EU. We have been particularly closely monitoring the investigations and trials that started after the failed coup in order for them to be carried out within the rule of law. Turkey should be congratulated for these efforts,” she said, regarding the EU move to cut Turkey’s funds.
The EP, which has a limited impact over Turkey’s membership talks, has at various times called for the process to be suspended in non-binding votes.
The latest was in July, when the EP called on the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, and member states to “suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey without delay if the constitutional reform package is implemented unchanged” after a referendum in April that changed Turkey’s parliamentary system to an executive presidency.
In March, before the referendum in question, relations hit a new low when the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Denmark prevented Turkish politicians, including ministers, from taking part in rallies within their borders to back a “Yes” vote to the referendum.
Dutch authorities actively intervened after a Turkish minister tried to reach a consulate in the country to address Turks living there, leading to a diplomatic crisis.
Since the post-coup attempt purges and arrests started, EU member states have discussed sanctions on Turkey, including cutting EU aid.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has led the calls to reduce the funds to Turkey in the recent months.
“Not only are Germans being arrested, but the entire rule of law in Turkey is moving in the wrong direction. We are very worried about this. And I will back a reduction in pre-accession funds,” Merkel said last month.
The chancellor also threatened to restrict her country’s economic ties with NATO ally Turkey to pressure Ankara to release several German citizens arrested after the coup attempt. They include journalists Deniz Yucel and Mesale Tolu.
In September, in a televised debate before Germany’s parliamentary elections, Merkel said that Turkey “should not become a member of the EU”.
Germany at various times also advised its citizens not to go to Turkey over what the government in Berlin called risk of “arbitrary” arrest.
Turkey’s membership talks with the EU have been practically frozen, with no progress made in recent years. However, no official decision has been taken by the EU to suspend the talks.
EU expert Can Baydarol, the deputy chairman of the Ankara-based European Union and Global Research Association, told Al Jazeera that the European Commission’s annual progress report on the membership talks, expected to be released in November, is likely to sharply criticise Turkey and might pave the way to more serious measures against Ankara.
“Taking these criticisms in the report and the Commission’s recommendation into consideration, the EU leaders might make a concrete decision on Turkey’s EU bid in the coming summits,” he said in an interview last month, adding officially freezing talks would likely to be on the table.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras