TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — European leaders and Tunisia’s president on Sunday announced progress in building hoped-for closer economic and trade ties and on measures to combat the often deadly smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.
The leaders of Italy, the Netherlands and the European Commission have made their second visit to Tunis in just over a month. They expressed hope that a newly signed memorandum with Tunisia during the trip would pave the way for a comprehensive partnership.
During their last visit in June, the leaders pledged more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in financial assistance to save Tunisia’s ailing economy and better control its borders, with the aim to restore stability in this North African country and to stem migration from its coasts to Europe.
This time, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not detail the total monetary value of EU aid offered to Tunisia, in statements they made after talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied.
But von der Leyen said the latest trip resulted in an agreement on “a comprehensive set of measures which we will now put into practice quickly”.
Saied, speaking through an interpreter, said he expects the memorandum to be followed by a “binding set of agreements” – suggesting more negotiating work to come.
Tunisia intends to implement the memorandum “as soon as possible”, he said.
The specific aid announced by von der Leyen included a 10 million euro ($11 million) program to boost student exchanges and 65 million euro ($73 million) in EU funding for modernize Tunisian schools.
On migration, Von der Leyen said: “We need effective cooperation more than ever.”
The EU will work with Tunisia on an anti-smuggling partnership, strengthen the coordination of search and rescue operations and the two sides have also agreed to cooperate on border management, she said. Von der Leyen pledged 100 million euros ($112 million) for the efforts – a figure she had already announced during the leaders’ previous visit.
Tunisia has faced international outcry over the fate of hundreds of migrants who have been deported to inhospitable desert areas on the borders of Libya and Algeria. At the Tunisian-Algerian border, local reports said 30 migrants were dead.
Saied, however, insisted that the migrants were treated well.
“The Tunisian people provided all that was possible to these migrants, with unlimited generosity, while many organizations, supposed to play their humanitarian role, came forward only through press releases,” he said. declared.
Mr Rutte described the new memorandum as “a promising start to a comprehensive strategic partnership” between the EU and Tunisia that will aim to boost economic growth.
He said EU member countries must now approve the deal, adding: “I am very confident that there will be broad support.”
Bouazza ben Bouazza in Tunis contributed to this report.
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