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15th Apr 2024

MEPs blast EU commission over Tunisia migrant deal

  • The Tunisia agreement was signed last summer and is seen as a template for future pacts. From left to right, Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, commission president Ursula von der Leyen, Tunisia's president Kais Saied and Italy's Giorgia Meloni (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)
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MEPs are becoming increasingly frustrated with the European Commission for pumping €150m into Tunisia amid accusations the European Parliament is being sidelined and ignored.

The frustration is not limited to the moral dilemma of the EU supporting an autocratic regime steeped in human-rights abuses, spanning a widespread crackdown on civil society, opposition, and sub-Saharan migrants.

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On Wednesday (13 March) in Strasbourg, MEPs also told reporters that they have been effectively sidelined in their democratic roles.

"The European Parliament was unable to express its views, it was unable to monitor the decisions taken by the commission," said Mounir Satouri, a French Green MEP.

His opinion was echoed by Renew Europe's liberal MEP Karen Melchior, German centre-right EPP Michael Gahler, and German socialist Udo Bullman, who also chairs the European Parliament's human rights committee.

"We are being continually ignored," said Melchior, noting that conditions linked to the disbursement of EU funds to Tunisia were not being respected.

"How can we give budget support without conditionality to Tunisia when things are going from bad to worse?", she said.

In a statement, Gahler said the commission had neglected to respect the parliament's financial authority.

The money sent to Tunisia follows an agreement signed last July by Olivér Várhelyi, the EU commissioner dealing with the region.

That agreement was signed with Tunisia's autocrat Kais Saied alongside Italian leader Giorgia Meloni, and her Dutch counterpart, Mark Rutte. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen was also present.

But a row with Saied soon followed after he refused entry of a European Parliament delegation tasked to oversee the accord. He also cancelled another planned visit by senior European Commission officials. And he described €60m of EU funds sent to Tunisia from a previous budget line on Covid as a sign of disrespect.

The deal remains a template for future agreements amid wider efforts to curtail migrant boat departures, primarily towards Italy.

And a possible agreement with Egypt this weekend has further alarmed civil society, as well as MEPs upset over what they say is lack of transparency on Tunisia.

"This is an issue of trust between the Commission and the European Parliament. And it's also an element of constitutional respect," said Bullman.

Paradigm shift

The European Commission maintains it has done nothing wrong.

They say the decision to send Tunisia €150m was adopted with the backing of member states under budgetary procedures agreed by the co-legislators.

A commission spokesperson said the objective is to support the efforts made by Tunisia "to improve the socio-economic situation of the country."

And they say that conditions are tied to the money, including transparency and a respect for human rights governed under a separate association agreement with Tunisia.

But the politics of migration remain present, with the European Commission announcing more needs to be done to secure future similar deals.

Earlier this week, European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas called such efforts a paradigm shift.

"We are not yet using all over leverage to the best effect," he told reporters in Strasbourg.

"We are not yet in a position to mobilise trade policy, development cooperation, visa policy to make even more significant impacts on the external dimension of migration," he said.

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