A significant agreement has been finalised in Tunis on Sunday between the European Union and Tunisia, as announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The purpose of the “new partnership” is to bolster trade and regulate migration from the North African country to Europe.
The comprehensive package of measures, as articulated by von der Leyen, will be swiftly implemented. Details of the preliminary agreement will be disclosed following its presentation to the European Council and Parliament, according to an EU commission representative.
While the press was excluded from the signing event at the Carthage palace, a live stream was facilitated by the EU Commission and the Tunisian presidency. In attendance were Italian and Dutch prime ministers, Giorgia Meloni and Mark Rutte respectively. Their presence forms part of a financial aid commitment previously announced by von der Leyen during her visit to Tunis in June.
The partnership is expected to centre around five key areas, including enhanced economic and trade relations, personal contact, sustainable energy partnership, and a comprehensive approach to migration.
Dutch media reported an agreement for a financial exchange between the EU and Tunisia. Last month, Tunisia was promised a €1 billion support package from the EU, €100 million of which was specifically for border security enhancements. However, the financial assistance addressing Tunisia’s economic crisis is contingent on the fulfilment of certain conditions.
Von der Leyen stressed the EU’s commitment to helping construct a resilient Tunisian economy that is more impervious to shocks and can foster growth. She noted that the EU is ready to mobilise macro-financial assistance as soon as the necessary conditions are met and provide immediate budget support.
The agreement comes at a time when Tunisia is facing difficulties securing third-party funding for its beleaguered public sector, as it has yet to reach an agreement on a pending $1.9 billion bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Migration remains a contentious issue, with around 60,000 migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa in the first half of 2023, as reported by the UN International Organisation for Migration. Approximately 2,000 individuals lost their lives attempting this dangerous voyage.
While the EU maintains that the aid involves a range of economic development assistance, including infrastructure funding, observers and experts in Tunisia assert that migration is at the heart of these discussions.
Prime Ministers Rutte and von der Leyen stressed the importance of gaining control over irregular migration, for the benefit of both parties.
The agreement was signed by Oliver Varhelyi, the European commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement, and a representative of the Tunisian Foreign Ministry, in the presence of von der Leyen, Rutte and Meloni, and Tunisian President Kais Saied.