Refugee deal Turkey Aid Criticism Hits E.U. Sore Spot

Following criticism from Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the European Union has been forced to deny that it is failing to pay promised refugee aid to Ankara. The figures suggest he may be right.
Turkey is hosting millions of Syrian refugees.

The tension between Turkey and the European Union is growing – and is now affecting the painstakingly negotiated agreement between the two to halt the influx of refugees.

In March, the bloc struck a deal with Turkey in which it would host Syrians fleeing their country’s civil war and prevent them from crossing the Aegean Sea to E.U. member Greece, which had been overwhelmed by migrants. In return, the European Union pledged €3 billion ($3.3 billion) in aid to help with refugee costs, and promised visa-free travel for Turks. Accelerated E.U. membership talks were also agreed.

But in a televised interview on the German state-owned broadcaster ARD on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan bluntly accused the bloc of violating the agreement. Instead of the promised €3 billion, Brussels had so far only delivered “one or two million” for the care of Syrian migrants in Turkey. Mr. Erdoğan accused E.U. leaders of lacking sincerity, but said his country would stand by the deal.

The European Union is respecting its commitments and suggestions to the contrary are not true. Margaritis Schinas, E.U. spokesperson

The European Commission, the E.U.’s executive arm, responded promptly and rejected Mr. Erdoğan’s criticism. “The European Union is respecting its commitments and suggestions to the contrary are not true,” said Margaritis Schinas, its chief spokesperson. She added that €704 million was already now allocated in the E.U.’s budget for refugees camps in Turkey, and this amount will be increased to €2.155 billion before the end of the month.

That suggests the Europeans are well on schedule as the €3 billion payment is intended to span 2016 and 2017.

Allocated in the budget, however, is not the same as paid out. So far considerably less money has flowed. In a progress report published in June, the Commission cited an amount totaling just €105 million. The money primarily went to the United Nations World Food Program and Children’s Fund. Non-governmental organization such as Doctors Without Borders or the German world hunger relief organization Welthungerhilfe, received single-digit million amounts.

The E.U. aid for refugees in Turkey is exclusively intended for non-governmental projects. The Turkish state is excluded from it, a fact the government in Ankara has not readily accepted.

The European Union still has a lot riding on the success of the refugee deal and doesn’t want to endanger it. The Commission and most E.U. leaders have been keen to stress that it won’t be affected by political events in Turkey, which has seen a major clampdown on opposition figures in the wake of the attempted coup on July 15.

The European Union is also continuing it cooperation with Turkey in other areas for the time being. For example, the bloc is hammering out an agreement with Turkey on the expansion of its customs union to include agricultural products and services. So far, the talks have not been broken off.

The same is true of the E.U. accession negotiations with Turkey, although the bloc has admittedly drawn a red line here. Last week, the E.U.’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini, made clear that if Mr. Erdoğan makes good on his threats to reinstate the death penalty as a result of the failed coup, then Turkey can no longer become an E.U. member. Turkey was given the status of candidate country for E.U. accession in 2004 only under the condition that it ban state executions.


Ruth Berschens heads Handelsblatt's Brussels office, leading coverage of European policy. To contact the author: [email protected]