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Tunisia and EU sign partnership memorandum of understanding

Europe has been eager to encourage North African countries to work on limiting the number of migrants who reach Italy, Greece and Spain by sea

July 17, 2023 at 12:32 pm

Tunisia and the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding on Sunday for a strategic, comprehensive partnership covering trade, investment and irregular migration. The value of the agreement exceeds €750 million.

The details were announced by the Tunisian presidency after a meeting at the Carthage Palace in Tunis between President Kais Saied and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. It was said to be opening a “new chapter” in relations between the EU and Tunisia.

“Rapprochement between people will be the best outcome of the MoU,” explained Saied in a joint press conference. “There will be a summit-level conference on migration that will bring together all the countries concerned, because the solution to this issue and this inhumane situation can only be collective by eliminating the causes before addressing the results,” he added.

“The first stage is to bring our people together, so we are creating opportunities for young people, in particular,” said von der Leyen. “We will be opening a Tunisia window in the Erasmus+ programme, worth €10m to boost student exchanges. We will also get started on ‘Talent Partnerships’ to give Tunisia’s youth opportunities to study, work or train in the European Union.” They will gain expertise in the EU and acquire new skills to help Tunisia’s economy, she pointed out. “We will also work together to modernise schools. For instance, we are supporting 80 schools to get ready for the digital and green transition, with a €65m contribution from Team Europe.”

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The senior European official added that the second stage will be economic development. “We will partner to build a robust Tunisian economy that is more resilient to shocks and conducive to growth. We remain ready to support Tunisia by mobilising macro-financial assistance as soon as the necessary conditions are met. And as a bridging step, we are ready to provide immediate budget support.”

Economic development, she said, will build a solid Tunisian economy that can withstand shocks. Investment and trade are also priorities. “The EU is already the largest foreign investor and trade partner for Tunisia, and we are willing to do much more. We will work together to improve the business environment to attract more private investments. For that, we are planning an investment forum this autumn, bringing together investors and international financial institutions.”

The development of renewable energy by providing Tunisia with the necessary technology is part of the agreement. The EU will allocate €300m for this.

As far as irregular migration is concerned, said von der Leyen, there is a need to crack down on criminal networks of smugglers and traffickers. “They are exploiting human despair, and we have to break their reckless business model. We will work with Tunisia on an Anti-Smuggling Operational Partnership and increase our coordination on search and rescue operations. We agreed that we will cooperate on border management, anti-smuggling, return and addressing root causes, with full respect for international law.” More than €100m of EU funding is being allocated for this.