EU chief proposes €900 million aid package for Tunisia

Ursula von der Leyen's offer comes six days after Italian PM Giorgia Meloni visited Tunis and promised European assistance

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Tunisian President Kais Saied and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni at the presidential Palace in Tunis. AP
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The European Union is willing to offer Tunisia a €900 million ($967 million) financial assistance package, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said during a visit with the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands.

The package includes €100 million for border control, search and rescue for irregular migrants at sea, countering human trafficking and migration-related issues in general, Ms von der Leyen said in a joint press conference on Sunday with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni.

The European leaders were received at the airport by Prime Minister Najla Bouden and held talks with President Kais Saied at Carthage Presidential Palace.

Ms von der Leyen said she proposed the financial aid to Mr Saied as part of a five-point programme that included support on migrant-related issues.

Ms Meloni visited Tunis six days earlier to discuss the Mediterranean migration crisis and Tunisia’s pending bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

“We have been pushing to support Tunisia at a 360-degree level by opening financing plans to support Tunisian efforts to support its socioeconomic crisis,” the Italian Prime Minister said in a video published by the Tunisian Presidency on Monday.

She also stressed the need for the agreement between Tunisia and the IMF to be based on pragmatic support for the country, which is 'going through a critical situation'.

Italy has been trying to mediate in Tunisia's talks with the IMF to unblock a $1.9 billion loan that the country needs to finance its 2023 budget, which is already in deficit.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that “Tunisia needs aid and the approach of the International Monetary Fund must be pragmatic and non-ideological in dealing with it.”

Loan talks between Tunisia and the IMF stalled months ago after Mr Saied rejected proposed terms that were key to the deal.

Mr Saied has repeatedly expressed his rejection of the fund's conditional financial package that seeks to push his government to become more austere and cut public spending.

“We cannot play the role that others hide, which is being gatekeepers to their countries,” Mr Saied told local officials during a visit to Sfax governorate.

“The solution should not be at the expense of the Tunisian state.”

Updated: June 11, 2023, 1:31 PM