EU unlocks funds for Tunisia. On Friday, the European Commission said it would greenlight part of the funds it had promised to Tunis to aid its flagging economy and support its efforts to counter irregular migrant departures. €60 million would be made available for budget support, while another €67 million is aimed at bolstering its capacities to combat human trafficking and tighten border controls.
- Reuters reported the news, adding that the Commission said the funds would be disbursed “in the coming days.”
- The EU executive also said in a statement that the latest financial package would help refit search and rescue vessels, vehicles and other equipment for the Tunisian Coast Guard and Navy, as well as help with the protection of migrants in Tunisia and returns of migrants to their countries of origin, the statement said.
Along the Rome route. These funds were envisioned in a deal brokered in July between Tunisian President Kais Saied, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni – who had been pushing for such an agreement and spearheaded the European effort to that end. Later, the head of the EU executive called the migration deal a model for others.
- Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani had reiterated the urgency to unlock the funding on Tuesday while he was in New York for the opening of the United Nations Global Assembly (and a round of meetings with counterparts from African and Balkanic nations to tackle joint issues).
- He was responding to doubts about the UE-Tunisia deal floating around European capitals and voiced by the bloc’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell.
- Releasing the aid funds is also intended to curb the soaring number of irregular migrants landing on Italian soil. Over 127,000 arrived in 2023 so far (double the 2022 numbers in the same timespan), putting serious strain on Italy’s reception system.
Now to a more structural solution… Combating human trafficking by cooperating with countries of departure is just a fragment of the Italian government’s comprehensive “Mattei Plan” for Africa, set to be unveiled in a matter of weeks. Speaking at the UN, PM Meloni called it a “serious alternative to the phenomenon of mass migration, made up of work, training, opportunities in the countries of origin, and legal and agreed migration paths.”
- In short, the Rome Process envisions a mixture of strengthened oversight on both sides of the migration channel and mutually beneficial cooperation in the economic, energy, infrastructure and academic fields to address the root causes of emigration.
… and actual European solidarity. The other side of the issue must necessarily entail more support from EU partners, as PM Meloni had reiterated over the weekend when she and Commission President von der Leyen toured the island of Lampedusa – where over 7,000 migrants landed in less than a week. On Thursday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and his German counterpart Frank Walter Steinmeier also touched town on the island to take stock of the situation – with the former blasting the EU’s current migration framework, the Dublin Regulation, as “prehistoric.”
- “We must work to ensure that the number of arrivals decreases. We need European solutions” and a “common asylum policy. From here, we express the expectation that there will be commitments on the agreements made,” added the German Head of State.
The clock is ticking to turn a framework agreement between member States into European law before the European elections in the spring of 2024. A series of spats between countries indicate there’s still some way to go before reaching a deal, and positions could harden as politicians seek to burnish their credentials before citizens go to the polls. But meanwhile, the issue is testing the bloc’s unity and capacity to tackle structural issues.
- On Thursday, the EU’s Court of Justice ruled against France’s response to the increased fluxes – i.e. closing its border with Italy to turn away migrants attempting to cross and vowing to “not take in a single migrant from Lampedusa.”
- Pope Francis is expected to travel to the border city of Marseille on Friday, where he is set to reiterate a message of tolerance and welcome to refugees and hold an interfaith prayer at a monument dedicated to those who lost their lives at sea.