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EU: pros and cons of Tunisian migration deal

On September 12, European Parliament members at a plenary session in Strasbourg could not reach a consensus on the controversial EU migration agreement with Tunisia: some call it vital, others say it is akin to “dancing with the devil”.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the agreement should serve as a model for agreements with other countries. In her State of the Union address, she took a positive stance, saying the agreement with Tunisia, which provides more than 100 million euros in EU aid, would bring “mutual benefits.”

In reality, however, not everything is as rosy as it seems. Horrifying footage of people being driven into the desert and left there, as well as a number of reports of racist incidents in the North African country, have appeared online.

Some parties in the European Parliament, such as Manfred Weber, chairman of the European People’s Party, support the deal.

The parties of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the heads of state who also signed the deal with the Tunisian Presient Kais Saied, also backed the move, calling it a “blueprint”. Marco Zanni, a spokesman for the Identity and Democracy group in the Italian government party La Lega, said that “the EU doesn’t really want to deal with this issue” and expressed a more skeptical mood.

Likewise in the Netherlands, Samira Refaela of the governing D66 party and a member of Renew Europe, criticised the EC President. She claimed:

 “It’s crazy von der Leyen did not learn from the Turkey deal”.

Socialist group S&D said it wanted the EU to “renegotiate” the agreement, while Spain’s leftist government, currently holding the European Union presidency, defended the agreement.

The S&D Group vice-president responsible for foreign affairs, Pedro Marques, pointed to what he said was “democratic backsliding, rule of law jeopardised, human rights, opposition rights, freedom of media and speech violated. Racist attacks against black migrants. He said:

“Despite all of this, with no involvement of the … Parliament nor transparency on how the EU funds will be spent, the European Commission has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Tunisian President Kais Saied.”

The ECR group in the Parliament was also divided. Ryszard Czarnecki of Poland’s ruling PiS party said the deal would help reduce and would contribute to better control of migration across the Mediterranean. In a statement sent to Brussels Signal he said:

“My country has long said that we must do everything to support countries in Africa and Asia from where immigrants and refugees come to Europe.”

MEP Assita Kanko, representing Belgium’s N-VA, which is also part of the ECR, said:

“No one is impressed by what the EU has done here, especially not the human traffickers or the Tunisian leader. Today, we have the highest numbers [of migrants] since 2016. The only effect is the explosive influx through Tunisia and the embarrassment of the EU.

Almost all parties seem opposed In Belgium; next to the NVA and the right-wing Vlaams Belang, the Social Democrats, Greens, radical leftists and most Liberals were also critical of the deal.

The Tunisia agreement implies funds for projects to strengthen ties between the bloc and Tunisia through Italy, as well as unconditional EU financial aid to the country to ensure control of its borders.

In July, EU Interior Minister Ylva Johansson reported a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Tunisia and heading to Europe this year, with an estimated 45,000 so far. About 5,000 of them are of Tunisian origin.  This shows that Tunisia is gradually becoming a favorite intermediate point for migrants and refugees who want to reach Europe.

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