EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini on Monday expressed confidence Turkey would soon receive a package of three billion euros ($3.2 bln) for mainly Syrian refugees, despite a delay of almost two months since the funds were agreed.
Mogherini, leading a high-level delegation to Ankara for talks with the Turkish leadership, said discussions were ongoing on the disbursement of the funds but played down reports they were being held up by disagreements.
The financial aid is the centerpiece of a deal agreed with Ankara on November 29 for the EU to step up support for Syrian and other refugees in Turkey in exchange for the Turkish authorities cutting the illegal flow of migrants to Europe.
“The talks are ongoing, I am very much confident that the amount that was decided will be there in a reasonable time,” Mogherini said after talks with Turkish ministers in Ankara.
Media reports have suggested that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, in particular, was blocking the disbursement of the funds to Turkey.
But Mogherini said she wanted to play down “this dramatic approach” over the issue, emphasizing that the funds were “not pocket money.”
“We are doing the preparatory work for spending this money in an appropriate way. Because again it’s not pocket money, it’s money that goes to projects,” she said.
“The commission is carrying out all the assessments of the needs and projects,” Mogherini said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu sought to also urge calm over the delay, saying: “We don’t take it personally.”
“But any delay is affecting daily life of the refugees, schooling and medical needs,” he added.
Turkey is currently playing host to at least 2.2 million refugees from the almost five year conflict in Syria and has repeatedly complained that the West failed to provide adequate financial help.
But Brussels now wants to encourage Turkey to keep the refugees inside its territory, after hundreds of thousands of migrants crossed into the EU in 2015, creating tensions in EU societies.
The November deal also gave new momentum to Turkey’s years-long push to become a member of the EU, which had long been held by disputes over Cyprus and human rights.
Mogherini, along with Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Christos Stylianides, are later due to hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
EU officials have expressed disappointment the November deal has not led to a noticeable reduction in the numbers of migrants crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey, with boats still arriving on the Greek islands daily despite the winter weather.