International

EU billions had ‘limited’ effect in Turkey, audit finds

Andrew Rettman – EuObserver

The EU got “limited” effect for the €9bn it spent trying to modernise Turkey in recent years, auditors have said. EU funds spent on improving rule of law, governance, and democratic standards “insufficiently addressed some fundamental needs”, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said in Luxembourg on Wednesday (14 March).

Funds spent on impartiality of judges, anti-corruption measures, organised crime, and press freedom “barely addressed some fundamental needs,” it said. Turkey had been “backsliding” on reforms since 2013 due to “lack of political will”, the ECA added. It “worsened” the situation “by the large-scale dismissals, suspensions of public officials, and restrictions on civil society” as part of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “repressive post-coup measures” from 2016 onward, the ECA said.

The post-coup crackdown “undermined Turkey’s position vis-a-vis the EU” and “affected Turkey’s administrative capacity” by their “sheer scale”, it said. “We therefore consider that the [€9 billion] effectiveness was only limited,” the ECA said.

The EU audit noted that Turkey bore the greater responsibility for how the money was used because the Central Finance and Contracts Unit in Erdogan’s treasury managed 85 percent of the EU spending. But it also criticised the European Commission for failing to impose stricter conditions on how its funds were used – in a lesson for EU enlargement policy in the Western Balkans. The ECA report comes ahead of EU leaders’ plans to discuss Turkey relations at a summit in Brussels next week.

It also comes ahead of an EU-Turkey summit in March and a commission progress report on Turkey in April, setting the scene for EU decisions of future funds for Turkey in the EU’s post-2020 budget. The ECA report looked at a small sample of projects implemented in the EU programme between 2007 and 2016 and visited Turkey for two weeks last year as part of its assessment. It looked at EU-funded projects such as creating a network of judicial spokespersons, improving border surveillance on the Turkey-Syria and Turkey-Iraq boundaries, and buying IT equipment for anti-money laundering bureaus.

The report noted that 75 percent of Turkish NGOs or other associations advocating civil rights had vanished in Erdogan’s 2016 post-coup measures. It added that the commission had “systematically reported serious attacks against press freedom in Turkey” ever since that time.

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