“An important step”, is how outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte described the agreement he – together with President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni – concluded on Sunday evening with Tunisian President Kais Saied. Rutte said he was “very happy” the deal was now in place, a month after a first visit to Tunis by the Team-Europe trio. Von der Leyen spoke of a “strategic and comprehensive” package. “We delivered,” von der Leyen said.
The agreement with Tunis was hailed by Rutte as “the perfect example” of similar agreements with other African countries. Human rights organizations and leftist parties in the European Parliament condemn the deal with Saied. They claim that Tunisia is deporting migrants to Libya, where their lives are also not safe. Saied called it “fake news” on Sunday. Von der Leyen stressed that international and European human rights laws will be respected.
About the Author
Marc Peeperkorn has been Volkskrant’s European correspondent since 2008. He lives and works in Brussels.
The seven-page “memorandum” signed by the EU and Saied is not very different from the outlines already drawn during the first visit on June 11. According to EU negotiators, the fact that negotiations on the final text lasted another month was due to Saied’s unpredictability. He underlined his country’s sovereignty and repeated several times that he did not want to become Europe’s border guard.
On Sunday, Saied insisted on rapid implementation of the agreements. Member states must approve the deal with Tunisia, Prime Minister Rutte said he was “completely confident” that this will happen.
The EU is ready to lend Tunis 900 million euros for budget support. Without this help, the country threatens to go bankrupt, making it even easier for smugglers to continue their profitable business. The EU will not provide the €900m until Saied reaches an agreement with the IMF on a €1.8bn aid package. It is planned for this fall. Saied, however, refuses to implement the reforms demanded by the IMF, including the reduction of fuel subsidies.
As bridge funding for this year, the EU is ready to give Tunisia 150 million euros. The exact conditions under which this money can be transferred are still under discussion.
The EU also wishes to improve economic cooperation with Tunisia. The country is helped to produce sustainable energy (hydrogen and electricity from solar energy) for its own use and for export. For example, 300 million euros will be invested in an energy cable from Tunisia to Italy. The EU is also helping financially to build a data cable between Tunisia and Europe.
In addition, aviation between Tunisia and Europe is developing (important for tourism) and more young Tunisians can study and work in Europe. The EU is also investing €65 million in the construction of 80 modern and sustainable schools in Tunisia.
In exchange for this aid, Tunisia must prevent the uncontrolled departure of migrant boats to Europe. The EU gives Tunis 105 million euros for better border control and the return of migrants. President Saied has said his country will not be a haven for migrants. The EU wants agreements with the Tunisian coast guard on joint search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. “We must prevent this dangerous and often deadly boat crossing,” Rutte said. “It is very important that we have a better control of irregular migration.”
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