by Sara Rashad
The strategic partnership agreement between the European Commission and Tunisia, established in July of the previous year, is facing mounting pressure. This is part of Europe’s efforts to counter the waves of irregular migration primarily emanating from Tunisia in North Africa towards Europe.
Tunisia Rejects European Aid:
Just three days ago, Tunisian President Kais Saied, during a meeting with Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar, publicly announced Tunisia’s rejection of aid allocated by the European Union, justifying this stance by characterizing the amount as a charitable donation rather than cooperation in line with the memorandum of understanding between the Union and Tunisia.
European Commission’s Commitments:
In September 2023, the European Commission reaffirmed its commitment to disburse the funds specified in the agreement, emphasizing the urgency of these funds for Tunisia. A sum of 42 million euros was disbursed quickly out of a total of 105 million euros, a move that President Saied perceived as a breach of the agreement.
The Dispute’s Dimensions:
The contours of the dispute between Tunisia and the European Union have become increasingly evident, gradually undermining the agreement. Voices from countries like Germany began criticizing the agreement due to concerns about human rights and suspicions of inhumane treatment by Tunisian security forces towards irregular migrants.
On the other hand, there were supportive voices in Europe for the agreement, with Italy at the forefront. However, this dispute has translated into a delay in the disbursement of funds.
Last month, Tunisia refused to host a European delegation that was intended to meet with Tunisian opposition and civil society to prepare for a national dialogue. Tunisia cited the delegation’s failure to coordinate with the Tunisian administration ahead of their arrival as the reason for their rejection.
As of this moment, it remains unclear whether the dispute over the July agreement between Tunisia and Europe will be resolved. Tunisia has not yet received the European aid package, as declared by the European Union.
Over the past few months, expectations leaned towards Tunisia no longer needing to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund, as Europe had allocated financial aid multiple times. However, the recent statement by Kamal El Fakih, the Tunisian Interior Minister, indicates that this has not materialized.
This statement is the first of its kind from a Tunisian minister, as most official statements have revolved around not settling migrants in Tunisia.
Fate of the Agreement:
All indications point towards further erosion of the agreement, given the internal European dispute over the agreement’s stance on human rights and the financial support commitment. Europe, however, is compelled to cooperate with Tunisia, being the primary source of most irregular migration, necessitating a solution that satisfies Tunisia and its agreement’s cautious supporters.
In contrast, Tunisia appears to be compelled once again to sit down with the International Monetary Fund after European commitments, which Tunisia had relied upon to meet its financial needs amidst a severe economic crisis, have faltered.
Notably, all of this unfolds in parallel with the continued influx of irregular migration to the Italian island of Lampedusa, which is reported to have received record numbers of migrants in recent weeks.