The European Union and Tunisia concluded a “strategic partnership” on Sunday July 16 to fight human traffickers and strengthen borders, in a context of increasing number of improvised boats leaving the North African country for Europe.
The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, praised the agreement, which will allow “investing in shared prosperity”, and mentioned “five pillars” of which she highlighted the issue of migration.
Along with Libya, Tunisia is the main point of departure for thousands of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean to Europe.
The heads of government of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, and of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, accompanied the European leader after a first visit by the trio a month ago, in which they proposed this association.
A “new stage”?
The five pillars are “macroeconomic stability, trade and investment, green energy transition, bringing people closer, migration and mobility,” the Commission stated in a press release.
Meloni, who has invited Tunisian President Kaïs Said to attend a migration summit in Rome next Sunday (July 23), welcomed the MoU as “another important step to address the migration crisis in an integrated way.”
The plans include the extension of the Erasmus exchange program to Tunisia and aid of 65 million euros for 80 schools.
Regarding energy, the European leaders pointed out that Tunisia is participating in projects for a submarine fiber optic cable and an electrical cable to link the two shores of the Mediterranean.
On this front, the EU wants to support the development of renewable energies in the Maghreb country, which has “enormous potential”, Von der Leyen.
Our teams have worked very hard to deliver rapidly on a strong package, which is an investment in our shared prosperity, stability and in future generations.
It is built on 5 pillars ↓ https://t.co/xYKDk3tisJ
— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) July 16, 2023
According to Meloni, the association between Tunisia and the European Union (EU) “can be considered a model for establishing new relations with North Africa.”
Regarding immigration, Rutte considered that the agreement will allow “better control of irregular immigration.”
For his part, Said took up this issue with his counterparts, calling for “a collective agreement on the inhumane immigration and (forced) displacement operations carried out by criminal networks.”
“New means of cooperation”
“The Tunisians have given these immigrants everything that could be offered with unlimited generosity,” said Said, widely criticized for the way in which hundreds of immigrants have been detained in Tunisia and then “deported”, according to NGOs, to inhospitable areas on the borders with Algeria and Libya.
The testimonies provided to AFP by telephone and the videos sent to NGOs in Tunisia showed women and children abandoned in the middle of the desert, without water, food or shelter.
Libyan border guards told AFP on Sunday that they had rescued at least 70 migrants who were wandering in unbearable temperatures and without any help in a border area between the two countries.
An increasingly openly xenophobic discourse has spread in Tunisia since its president, who assumed full power in July 2021, denounced irregular immigration in February, referring to “hordes of sub-Saharan migrants” who, according to him, had come to ” change the demographic composition” of the country.
Specifically, the agreement between Brussels and Tunisia provides for aid of 105 million euros to fight against irregular immigration.
The EU has also promised €150m of direct budget aid in 2023, at a time when Tunisia, strangled by debt at 80% of its GDP, is running out of liquidity, causing regular shortages of consumer goods. first necessity acquired directly by the State.
During their first visit, the European leaders had mentioned a “macro-financial aid of 900 million euros” in the form of a loan that would have been granted to Tunisia in the coming years.
In addition, Von der Leyen declared on Sunday that Brussels remained “ready to provide this assistance as soon as the conditions are met.”
But this “help” is conditional on an agreement between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a new credit of 2,000 million dollars, a file that has been blocked for months.
Said rejects two essential conditions for an agreement with the IMF: the removal of subsidies for basic products and the restructuring of public companies in difficulties.
We must “find new means of cooperation outside the international monetary framework,” he declared on Sunday, July 16.