The president of Tunisia rejects EU aid in exchange for the agreement to stop migration as “laughable” | International

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From left, the acting Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte; the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; the president of Tunisia, Kais Said, and the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, on July 16 in Tunisia.TUNISIAN PRESIDENCY (via REUTERS)

The president of Tunisia, Kais Said, has dealt a blow on the negotiating table of the migration agreement with the European Union, key to stopping the arrival of boats in the central Mediterranean, by rejecting as “derisory” the financial aid of 127 million euros announced by Brussels on September 22, compared to the 1 billion promised in July. The slamming of the door by Said, who has governed by decree for two years after dissolving Parliament and removing the majority parties, threatens to undermine a “strategic partnership” pact to control irregular immigration that the European Commission intends to use as a model. for other North African States. In essence, Brussels provides economic aid in exchange for blocking migrant departures to the EU.

“Tunisia accepts cooperation, but not what appears to be charity or simple favors,” warned the Tunisian president in a statement released on Monday night, “and rejects what was recently announced by the EU.” Said specified that he opposes Brussels' offer "not so much because of its ridiculous amount but because it goes against what was agreed in the memorandum of understanding signed in July in Tunisia," despite the fact that he places emphasis on dismantling trafficking networks. of people. The proposal raised three months ago amounted to around 1,000 million euros in aid to stop irregular immigration to Europe and for the financial recovery of the Maghreb country, mired in a serious economic crisis.

The 127 million that the Commission has put on the table are allocated in part to the modernization of the vessels of the Tunisian Coast Guard that monitors migratory movements in its territorial waters, as well as to the protection of sub-Saharan migrants in transit in Tunisia, in coordination with international organizations, and repatriation to their countries of origin.

The president of Tunisia continues to tighten the rope of negotiation with Brussels while the migration agreement is in question. Last week, Said denied entry to a delegation from the European Commission that was due to visit his country to discuss the implementation of the memorandum of understanding. At the beginning of September he also vetoed the passage of a delegation from the European Parliament. The maneuvers of the Tunisian president, together with the images of the Italian island of Lampedusa, where thousands of migrants have arrived in recent weeks, endanger the viability of the agreement.

This is an opaque memorandum that the Commission and most Member States – where the rhetoric on immigration is increasingly harsh – aspire to use as a model with other countries of origin and transit. Brussels is already sounding out Egypt and Morocco, which plans to receive 500 million euros in aid from the EU for the period 2021-2027, a figure that Rabat considers well below the expenses generated by containing migratory flows to Europe.

In exchange for help to control the borders, the agreement offers European financial assistance to Tunisia for about 1,000 million euros, linked to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approving a rescue plan of 1,900 million dollars (1,800 million euros). ); as well as funds for border control. Said opposes IMF impositions, as they can trigger social unrest by cutting basic food subsidies and forcing layoffs in the public sector. On the other hand, if foreign aid does not arrive on time, international rating agencies can reduce to a minimum the credit expectations of Tunisia, which has been on the verge of defaulting on its debt for some time.

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A disputed agreement

The migration agreement has been questioned both in the European Parliament and by international NGOs in the face of complaints of human rights violations against the Said Government and the way in which the Community Executive of Ursula von der Leyen signed the memorandum, without the agreement. of the Member States, as established by law.

President Said's order to Brussels to demand greater compensation from his country to serve as a containment wall against irregular African immigration to Europe from Tunisia, which has displaced Libya as the main country of departure, is a risky move. Von der Leyen has traveled twice since June to the Tunisian capital in the company of the Italian Prime Minister and the outgoing Head of Government of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, in what she has called “Team Europe”, to try to unblock the agreement with the president.

The president of the Commission has limited herself to offering Said five sectoral pillars of financing for the memorandum of understanding, which total 300 million euros, of which 105 million correspond to immigration containment policies. The rest corresponds to items such as digitalization, energy and economic development.

The Tunisian leader reiterates in recent months that he does not want to act as Europe's “border guard.” After having dissolved Parliament and unleashing a wave of arrests of dissidents, Said attacked sub-Saharan immigrants last February. The president stated in a public statement: "There is a criminal plan designed since the beginning of the century aimed at altering the demographic composition of Tunisia to transform it into a simple African country with no ties to the Arab and Islamic world." Since then, harassment of black African foreigners in the Maghreb country has multiplied.

In Sfax, the main departure point for boats in the central Mediterranean, 270 kilometers south of the capital of Tunisia, 10,000 sub-Saharans have been waiting for months to embark for the Italian coasts of the island of Lampedusa, a day of sailing in patera, as reported in June by a local NGO. Hundreds of migrants have been expelled by the authorities and forcibly transferred to a desert area on the border with Libya.

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