Tunisia, EU ink economy and migration deal

The European Union (EU) and Tunisia have signed a “strategic partnership” aimed at addressing the challenges of illegal immigration while also supporting Tunisia in its economic struggles. The agreement was welcomed by Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, who highlighted the five pillars of the partnership, including migration as a key focus.

Tunisia, along with Libya, serves as a primary departure point for thousands of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean to reach Europe. The EU aims to tackle the migration crisis in an integrated manner through this partnership, which covers areas such as macro-economic stability, trade and investment, green energy transition, people-to-people links, migration, and mobility.

During the visit of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the leaders proposed this partnership following their initial visit a month ago. The agreement includes extending the Erasmus exchange program to Tunisia and providing €65 million in aid for 80 schools. Energy projects, such as an undersea fibre-optic cable and an electricity cable connecting the Mediterranean shores, were also emphasised.

Regarding renewable energy development, von der Leyen expressed the EU’s commitment to supporting Tunisia, recognising its enormous potential in the sector. Meloni sees the EU-Tunisia partnership as a potential model for establishing new relations with North Africa. Rutte believes the agreement will facilitate better control of irregular immigration, addressing President Kais Saied’s call for a collective agreement to combat inhumane immigration and displacement by criminal networks.

However, Saied has faced criticism over the treatment of migrants in Tunisia, with reports of individuals being abandoned in inhospitable desert areas without water, food, or shelter. The partnership includes €105 million in aid to combat illegal immigration and direct budgetary aid of €150 million in 2023. Tunisia’s economic situation is challenging, with high debt and cash shortages leading to regular shortages of basic necessities.

The EU’s financial assistance is dependent on Tunisia reaching an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a new $2 billion credit. President Saied has thus far rejected key IMF conditions related to subsidy cuts on basic products and the restructuring of state-owned enterprises. Saied suggested exploring new forms of cooperation outside the international monetary framework.

The EU remains ready to provide assistance once the conditions are met, and the partnership with Tunisia aims to address the complex issues of illegal immigration while offering support to alleviate economic difficulties in the country.

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