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Humanitarian support to refugees in Turkey: Council approves a 2021 EU budget amendment

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EU ambassadors have approved €149.6 million of funding from the EU budget to support the most vulnerable of the approximately 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. This amount would finance the extension of one of the humanitarian programmes that support the livelihood of the refugees.

The purpose of the budget amendment is to continue providing support to refugees and host communities in Turkey, which is currently the country with the largest refugee population in the world. It would allow the EU to carry on with a programme providing multi-purpose cash assistance to refugees – the Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN).

The ESSN is the biggest humanitarian programme in the EU’s history. It provides 1.8 million refugees in Turkey with monthly cash transfers to cover essential needs like rent, transport, bills, food and medicine.

Financing for the extension of this humanitarian support programme will come from the remaining margin for 2021 in the heading ‘Neighbourhood and the world’ of the EU’s multiannual financial framework.

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After formal approval of the Council next week, this draft amending budget for 2021 will wait for the approval of the European Parliament.

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Turkey becomes associated to major EU programmes for research, innovation and education

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The Commission has signed an agreement with Turkey for tighter co-operation in EU research, innovation and education programmes. For the period 2021-2027, Turkey has been granted association status to Horizon Europe, the EU research and innovation programme, Erasmus+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport, and the European Solidarity Corps. As a result, researchers, innovators, students, pupils, trainees, teachers, and young people established in Turkey can now participate under the same conditions as participants from EU member states. Association to the research and innovation framework programme is the closest form of cooperation with countries outside the EU. Association to Horizon Europe supports the 'Global Approach to Research and Innovation' and reconfirms Europe's commitment to a level of global openness needed to drive excellence, pool resources for faster scientific progress and develop vibrant innovation ecosystems.

Association to Erasmus+ supports lifelong learning, educational, professional and personal development of people in education, training, youth and sport, in Europe and beyond, thereby contributing to sustainable growth, quality jobs, social cohesion and active citizenship. The European Solidarity Corps enhances the engagement of young people and organizations in activities as a means to contribute to strengthening cohesion, solidarity, democracy, by addressing societal and humanitarian challenges.

Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel said: “I welcome Turkey to Horizon Europe, ERASMUS+ and the Solidarity Corps. The Turkish participation in the new generation of our EU programmes will further reinforce their capacities and support integration into the European Research Area and European Education Area.”  More information is available here.

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Turkey dispute with US eases after threat to expel envoys

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Tensions between Turkey and 10 Western countries including the US have eased, days after the Turkish president threatened to ban their ambassadors, writes the BBC.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the expulsions after the envoys called for a jailed activist's release last week.

But on Monday (25 October), the countries involved said they would not interfere in Turkey's affairs.

An adviser to Erdogan told the BBC the president welcomed this and that the issue was almost settled.

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BBC Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman said the president's move appeared to defuse a fresh diplomatic crisis with Western powers concerned, though its underlying causes remain.

The dispute flared when the embassies of the US, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden issued an unusual statement calling for the release of jailed philanthropist Osman Kavala.

The 64 year old has been in jail without a conviction for four years over protests and a military coup attempt in 2016.

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Kavala denies any wrongdoing and critics of the Erdogan government say his case is an example of a widespread crackdown on dissent.

The Council of Europe, Europe's main human rights watchdog, has given Turkey a final warning to heed a European Court of Human Rights ruling to free Mr Kavala pending trial.

President Erdogan was enraged by the ambassadors' intervention.

"I gave the necessary order to our foreign minister and said what must be done," he told a crowd on Saturday. "These 10 ambassadors must be declared persona non grata at once."

Persona non grata - meaning an unwelcome person - can remove diplomatic status and often results in expulsion or withdrawal of recognition of envoys.

But the president appears to have stepped back from that decision after the US Embassy and others in Turkey issued statements as he entered a cabinet meeting.

The embassies cited part of an international treaty that says ambassadors have a duty to not interfere in the domestic affairs of their host country.

"The United States notes that it maintains compliance with Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," the US Embassy said on Twitter.

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Turkey: A serious diplomatic crisis that can still be avoided

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The announcement that ten ambassadors have been expelled from Turkey can only be understood as an attempt to divert attention from the real urgent issues, state MEPs, AFET.

Parliament Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sánchez Amor (S&D, ES) and the Chair of the EU-Turkey Parliamentary Delegation Sergey Lagodinsky (Greens/EFA, DE) issued the following statement in reaction to President Erdoğan’s instruction to the foreign minister to declare ten ambassadors persona non grata over their statement on the ongoing case of businessman Osman Kavala.

“The measures announced by President Erdoğan against 10 ambassadors over their statement on the ongoing persecution of businessman Osman Kavala are incomprehensible and completely baseless. We can only understand them as an attempt to divert attention from the real urgent issues, domestic and bilateral. It is not these Ambassadors or their governments who decided it is Turkey’s responsibility to release Osman Kavala. It is the European Court of Human Rights that ordered his immediate release in December 2019, reiterated afterwards by six decisions and an interim resolution by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Turkey is therefore obliged to respect this Court's decision, just as it is under the obligation to follow a similar ruling on Selahattin Demirtaş.

Rule of law and fair trial guarantees are foundational pillars of any democracy. As repeatedly underlined by reports of the European Commission and the Council of Europe, and stressed in the Annual Report of the European Parliament, Turkey has a serious deficit in these fields that needs urgent correction. Those problems are addressed by comprehensive reforms, not by sanctions against those who merely demand what the European Court of Human Rights had clearly stated. It is unacceptable that attacks on critical voices and interference with the judiciary have continuously been happening in Turkey. It is more than unfortunate that now an attempt has been made to silence the criticism from abroad. Our position on Osman Kavala’s case and criticism of other democracy deficits in Turkey will remain undeterred despite this sad development.

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We are on the verge of a serious diplomatic crisis that can still be averted. We call on Turkish authorities to refrain from steps that could result in an even worse scenario in our relations than the difficult period we have been living through during the recent years, a crisis that we just were hoping to overcome. Once again, we call on Turkey to comply with its international commitments and abide by the ECtHR rulings with regard, among others, to the cases of Osman Kavala and Selahattin Demirtaş.

We urge the European Union to coordinate a joint reaction and while still possible encourage Turkish counterparts to de-escalate.”

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President Erdoğan announced on Saturday that he had given the order to Turkey’s Foreign Minister to declare the Ambassadors of ten countries “persona non grata.” The ten countries are Canada, France, Finland, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States of America. President Erdoğan wants the ambassadors expelled after the ten countries in question urged the Government to release Turkish activist Osman Kavala, who has been a political prisoner in the country for almost four years, without conviction.

On 8 October, the Foreign Affairs Committee Standing Rapporteur for Turkey Nacho Sanchez Amor (S&D, ES) was in Turkey and attended Kavala’s trial in a show of solidarity.

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