The EU has pledged direct budget support as Tunisia, strangled by debt, runs out of cash, causing regular shortages of basic necessities purchased directly by the state.
The European Union and Tunisia concluded this Sunday in Tunis a “strategic partnership” centered on the fight against irregular immigration but also intended to support the North African country in the face of serious economic difficulties.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed an agreement that will “invest in shared prosperity”, referring to “five pillars”, including the very important migration issue.
Tunisia is the main point of departure with Libya for thousands of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean towards Europe.
The Italian heads of government Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Mark Rutte accompanied the European leader after a first visit a month ago by the trio, during which they had proposed this partnership.
The five pillars are “macro-economic stability, trade and investment, green energy transition, bringing people together, migration and mobility”, specifies the Commission in a press release.
The memorandum of understanding marks “a new important step in dealing with the migration crisis in an integrated way”, welcomed Giorgia Meloni, who invited Tunisian President Kais Saied to participate next Sunday in Rome in a summit on migration.
In particular, the extension of the Erasmus exchange program to Tunisia and aid of 65 million euros for 80 schools are planned.
Control of irregular immigration
On the energy side, European leaders recalled that Tunisia is concerned by submarine fiber optic cable and electric cable projects to connect the two shores of the Mediterranean. In this regard, the EU wants to support the development of renewable energies in the Maghreb country which has “enormous potential”, stressed Ursula von der Leyen.
According to Giorgia Meloni, the partnership between Tunisia and the European Union (EU) “can be considered as a model for the establishment of new relations with North Africa”.
As for immigration, Mark Rutte felt that the agreement will “better control irregular immigration”.
President Saied raised this issue in front of his counterparts, calling for “a collective agreement on inhuman immigration and on (forced) displacement operations by criminal networks”.
Increasingly xenophobic discourse
“The Tunisians gave these immigrants everything that could be offered with unlimited generosity”, pleaded Kais Saied, strongly criticized for the way in which hundreds of migrants were arrested in Tunisia, then “deported”, according to NGOs, to inhospitable areas on the borders with Algeria and Libya.
An increasingly openly xenophobic discourse has spread in Tunisia since Kais Saied, who assumed full powers in July 2021, denounced illegal immigration in February, referring to “hordes of sub-Saharan migrants” who had come, according to him, “to change the demographic composition” of the country.
Concretely, the agreement between Brussels and Tunis provides aid of 105 million euros to fight against irregular immigration.
The EU has also promised direct budgetary aid of 150 million euros in 2023 while Tunisia, strangled by a debt of 80% of its GDP, is short of liquidities, which causes regular shortages for products of basic necessities purchased directly by the State.
During its first visit, the European troika had mentioned “macro-financial assistance of 900 million euros”, in the form of a loan which would have been provided to Tunisia over the next few years.
Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday that Brussels remained “ready to provide this assistance as soon as the conditions are met”.
But this “assistance” is conditional on an agreement between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a new loan of 2 billion dollars, a file that has been deadlocked for months.
President Saied rejects two essential conditions for an agreement with the IMF: the lifting of subsidies on basic products and the restructuring of state enterprises in difficulty. We must “find new means of cooperation outside the international monetary framework”, he said.
Source: BFM TV