EU Mulls Turkey Aid as Refugees and Terrorism Renew Focus

  • Germany and France ponder increasing financial support
  • ‘Europe has to do more,’ Wolfgang Schaeuble says in Brussels

The European Union still hasn’t found the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) of aid it pledged to Turkey in November. Yet governments are already talking about topping it up.

With no letup in the thousands of refugees crossing from Turkey into the EU and Tuesday’s Istanbul terror attack bringing chaos in the region further into focus, the bloc’s finance ministers used their first meeting of the year to question whether their Mediterranean neighbor needs even more money to remedy a crisis that’s fracturing European politics.

“We have to look at all the solutions, at all the means, including the amounts but especially the implementation methods to bring this aid to Turkey,” French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said as the meeting got under way in Brussels on Friday.

At its peak last year more than 7,000 refugees a day crossed the Mediterranean into the EU, with most headed north through Europe, leaving governments from Rome to Stockholm grappling with sudden and unprecedented pressure on their health and welfare systems. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned that failure to solve the refugee problem will put continental free trade and the euro at risk.

While the influx has slowed to 1,700 a day this month, there are still 1.9 million refugees and asylum-seekers in Turkey, according to the United Nations. The EU’s aid package, agreed by the bloc’s 28 leaders in November, is contingent on Turkish authorities successfully persuading them to stay there -- something EU officials insist has not yet been achieved.

More Funds

“We need more funds for the stabilization of the region beyond the three billion,” German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said as his euro-area finance counterparts met in Brussels on Thursday. “Europe has to do more and Germany is ready for that,” in a “coalition of the willing” if need be, he said. Reiterating that sentiment on Friday, he said the failure to handle the refugee crisis could result in a failure of Europe’s passport-free travel system.

The suspected suicide bombing in Istanbul, which left 10 German tourists dead, has renewed pressure on Angela Merkel’s government in particular. She has already faced criticism for her response to the refugee crisis. The country is reeling from violence against women at public New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne. More than 20 of the suspects are asylum seekers, the Interior Ministry said.

With the unprecedented refugee influx continuing to challenge the EU’s political consensus, governments are at odds over whether the money already agreed for Turkey should come from the central EU pot or from national budgets. Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem told reporters on Friday that Italy still hadn’t lifted its objections to the aid money.

“Italy fully supports Turkey in handling the pressing numbers of refugees, and it’s important that all resources be put to this effort,” Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said. “What needs to be clarified is to explore better ways of budgeting before asking for national contributions and shared resources.”

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