The European Union is eyeing long promised punitive measures against Turkey for its illegal military incursion into northern Syria, as well as its unauthorized natural gas drilling off Cyprus' coast.
Germany's Deutsche Welle reported on Saturday the EU has moved to cut pre-accession aid to Turkey by 75%, citing a letter sent to the European Parliament by the EU foreign affairs commissioner. The Instrument for 'Pre-Accession Assistance' (IPA) is offered in support of reforms in countries in the process of joining the EU, despite previously planned 'fast-tracked' talks for Turkey to join the European bloc stalling significantly after 2016. However, the EU quickly distanced itself the report, which appears to have originated with a leaked draft EU letter:
An EU spokesman on Sunday denied media reports from the previous day that claimed the bloc had agreed to massive new cuts to pre-accession aid to Turkey.
Germany's Funke Media Group had said it saw a letter from the bloc's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, announcing a 75% cut to the funds Ankara receives as a prospective EU member via the "Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA)." — DW
It appears the letter was leaked to or seen by the media prematurely, and now EU officials are scrambling to deny it.
Europe has also of late been concerned over President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's growing authoritarianism and control over various branches and institutions of Turkey's government, especially since putting down the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt which resulted in him and his supporters emerging stronger than ever.
"Turkey will now only receive €168 million ($186 million), of which €150 million will be spent on strengthening democracy and rule of law," the original disputed Deutsche Welle report said of potential measures, threatening an aid package which is supposed to be over twice the size.
EU foreign affairs commissioner Borrell's apparently leaked letter indicated the potential slash in funds are directly related to Turkey's Syria operations against the Kurds and incursions into Cyprus' Exclusive Economic Zone. This follows the European Commission announcing sanctions in November to target "individuals or entities responsible for, or involved in, unauthorized drilling activities of hydrocarbons in the Eastern Mediterranean."
Over the past year, Turkish authorities have been brazen in publicizing their territorial claims and actions backing them in the eastern Mediterranean, even as EU leaders have slammed the now nine months-long exploration and drilling expansion in solidarity with Cypriot condemnations. Starting last summer two exploration and drilling ships — the Yavuz and the Fatih — had been deployed a mere 42 miles off the west coast of Cyprus, accompanied also by military vessels and on occasion aircraft.
But as DW reports further, this latest proposed looming and now disputed cut in pre-accession aid will not effect the billions promised to Turkey in the wake of the 2015 to 2016 peak of the refugee crisis:
The cut in aid, however, doesn't affect the €3.5 billion offered to Turkey as part of a larger EU deal to prevent refugees from reaching European shores.
The EU has already warned Turkey of possible repercussions over illegal gas drilling off the coast of Cyprus.
However, the EU has signaled it could be a first step in more punitive measures to come.
Turkey has long claimed it's drilling within its territorial rights, based on its lone claim to the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (since 1974), which supposedly allows Ankara to share revenues from Cypriot gas exploration.
Ultimately, Turkey has laid claim to a waters extending a whopping 200 miles from its coast, brazenly asserting ownership over a swathe of the Mediterranean that even cuts into Greece's exclusive economic zone.