BRUSSELS — Tunisia returned EU cash amid escalating tensions between Brussels and Tunis over a controversial migrant deal.
A Commission spokesperson confirmed to POLITICO the North African country returned €60 million of budget support delivered by the EU executive in September.
This comes as a major blow to the controversial migrant deal signed by the European Commission with Tunisia in July that offered cash in exchange for help stemming migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
Tunisia gave back the money as a sign of its dissatisfaction toward the Commission. The North African country accused the EU executive of withholding more funds it had promised under the migrant agreement.
Relations between Tunis and Brussels have collapsed since July as the EU punted on handing out the promised cash — worth €255 million — to the North African country, amid growing criticism over the funding.
Tunis accused the bloc of pledging funding that originates in ongoing programs that predate the migration pact.
The Tunisian government said the €60 million delivered by the EU was already foreseen under the country’s post-COVID recovery plan, which was part of a pre-existing deal between Brussels and Tunis. But the funds were never previously disbursed.
“Today they are disbursing [this money] for 2023 and as budget support,” the Tunisian Foreign Minister Nabil Ammar told the local daily Echourouk on Wednesday.
In a swipe at the EU, Ammar said that “we didn’t start wars and we didn’t plunge humanity into world wars as you did.” He added that the Tunisian government officially handed back the €60 million on October 9.
Last week the EU’s enlargement chief Olivér Várhelyi challenged Tunisia to return the bloc’s cash after Tunisian President Kais Saied criticized the Commission’s support package.
But despite recent tensions, the EU executive insists that the Tunisia deal remains a template for future agreements with North African countries.
Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas backed a deal along the same lines with Egypt during a speech on Tuesday. The Commission’s spokesperson told POLITICO that the latest development “does not change the fact that we continue working on the five pillars of the MOU with Tunisia.”