The European Union is ready to support Tunisia with a total of more than €1 billion of aid in return for better border control and measures against human smuggling “as soon as the necessary agreement is found,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
The Commission is considering up to €900 million in macro-financial assistance, and “as an immediate step we could provide up to €150 million in budget support right now,” von der Leyen said on Sunday in a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte during a visit to Tunis.
After a meeting with Tunisian President Kais Saied in the capital, von der Leyen announced that together they would work on a “comprehensive five-pillar package,” which includes “increased trade and investment” and “mutually beneficial energy cooperation.”
The EU was also ready to provide Tunisia with €100 million for border management, search and rescue, anti-smuggling measures and other initiatives to address the migration issue, von der Leyen said.
Ahead of the meeting, Saied had said that his country would not accept becoming a border guard for other countries, as he visited the port city of Sfax, the main departure point for migrants seeking to reach Italy by boat.
Italy has long wanted more options for where it can send rejected asylum seekers, but others have objected, arguing the EU can’t send people to countries that don’t fully respect human rights.
EU countries last week reached what is considered a historic migration deal that could reshape how the Continent processes and relocates asylum seekers. The agreement strikes a balance between EU border countries that want more help handling asylum seekers and those countries inland arguing that too many migrants are arriving and moving without permission within the EU.