BRUSSELS: An EU 2018 budget deal was announced Saturday that cuts funds destined to Turkey, citing doubts about Ankara’s commitment to democracy and human rights.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had led calls for a cut to the funds, which are linked to Turkey’s stalled bid to join the bloc, following mass-scale arrests in the country since the failed July 2016 coup.

MEPs and member states have agreed to reduce the “pre-ascension funds” by 105 million euros ($124 million) and froze an additional 70m euros of previously announced spending.

In a statement, lawmakers said “they consider the deteriorating situation in relation to democracy, rule of law and human rights worrying”.

Turkey has dismissed more than 140,000 officials since the coup attempt, and arrested another 50,000, including opposition politicians, academics, journalists, activists and EU citizens.

The German government has warned its citizens against travelling to Turkey as they risk “arbitrary” arrest.

“We have sent a clear message that the money that the EU provides cannot come without strings attached,” said Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan, the lead rapporteur for the budget.

Europe had pledged 4.45 billion euros in pre-accession spending for Turkey from 2014 to 2020, but only 360m euros has been allocated so far.

Ankara’s application to join the EU is effectively frozen, as several European leaders have criticised the hardline response to the thwarted bid to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last year.

Overall, the 2018 budget calls for 160bn euros of committed spending for ongoing programmes and 145bn in payments expected for the year, increases of 1.3 per cent and 7.8pc from 2017.

The agreement still needs to be formally adopted by the EU Council, representing me­­mber states, and the European Parliament.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2017

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