(Bloomberg) — Tunisia and the European Union signed a partnership to strengthen cooperation on migration policy that could become a blueprint for curbing deadly migrant journeys across the Mediterranean Sea.
Key to the pact is support to develop Tunisia’s economy.
“We will cooperate on border management, anti-smuggling, return and addressing root causes in full respect of international law,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Tunis alongside Tunisian President Kais Saied. Also attending were Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch premier Mark Rutte.
Tunisia is one of the main gateways for illicit and risky crossings of the Mediterranean by Tunisians and others from Africa. Its shores are less than 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the nearest Italian ports.
The European Union is boosting financial support to Tunisia for migration issues to more than €100 million ($112 million) this year, almost three times the average provided to the nation over the last two years.
Meloni has struggled to gain traction in reaching a common EU policy on migration in the Mediterranean. Italy had 77,195 asylum requests last year, compared to 45,200 in 2021 and 21,330 in 2020, according to Eurostat data.
“The partnership with Tunisia should be considered as a model to build new relations with North African nations,” Meloni said.
As part of the deal, the bloc also committed to support the development of local talent, organize an investment forum in the country in autumn and to progress on agreements on air transport and energy. Rutte said that investments would focus on sectors including energy and agriculture.
The EU has long struggled to reach a common approach on migration, particularly as successive crises have strained frontline countries.
The EU has also committed to provide a conditional €900 million loan once the country concludes negotiations with the IMF for a $1.9 billion rescue package. The country faces a looming funding gap and sporadic bread shortages.
—With assistance from Chiara Albanese.