Tunisia returns €60 million to the EU as tensions over migration deal persist

The nation's president has described the funds as mere charity

Tunisian President Kais Saied at the closing session of the New Global Financial Pact Summit. AFP
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Tunisia has returned €60 million ($63 million) provided by the EU in budgetary support, a sum which Tunisia's president Kais Saied described last week as mere charity, a representative for the bloc has told The National.

“The Commission has been informed that Tunisia returned the payment of €60 million,” the representative said in an email.

“This does not change the fact that we continue working on the five pillars of the MoU,” they added, in reference to an agreement struck this summer which aims at containing departures of migrants by sea from Tunisia towards the bloc.

The agreement worth overall €1 billion ($1.12 billion), has five pillars that include strengthening trade ties and a partnership in sustainable energy.

But its implementation is looking increasingly uncertain after Mr Saied rejected last week about €127 million in assistance from the EU. He said that Tunisia “accepts co-operation but not charity.”

The package included €67 million for Tunisia's coast guards to combat human traffickers and tighten border controls and €60 million in budgetary support, which was planned before this summer's agreement.

The EU's commissioner for neighbourhood and enlargement Oliver Varhelyi wrote on social media that Tunisia was free to “wire back the money.”

“Implementation of the MoU [memorandum of understanding] should continue once Tunisia returns to the spirit of our strategic & comprehensive partnership based on mutual respect,” he said on X, formerly Twitter.

According to Tunisian media reports, Tunis returned €60 million to the EU on October 9.

The implementation of the agreement has also caused a public spat between the EU Commission, the bloc's executive arm and the EU Council, where national leaders meet to decide on major decisions.

The Council has accused the Commission of excluding it from the pact, an accusation it rejects.

Updated: October 12, 2023, 9:48 AM