The European Commission defended on Tuesday in the face of criticism from MEPs the migration partnership signed in July with Tunisia, saying that cooperation with this country had led to an increase this year in boat interceptions and rescues.
Tunisia is, along with Libya , the main departure point for thousands of migrants crossing the central Mediterranean to Europe, arriving in Italy.
The EU-Tunisia memorandum of understanding is criticized on the one hand by the left and the Greens, who denounce the authoritarianism of President Kais Saied and the abuses suffered by sub-Saharan migrants in this country. On the right and the far right, however, MEPs consider its implementation insufficient to reduce the number of migrant arrivals in Europe.
At a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, European Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi acknowledged that "a number of recent developments were worrying ".
But "the difficult situation of migrants stuck in border regions (Tunisia with Libya and Algeria) or the high number of irregular arrivals (in the EU) illustrate the urgency of redoubled efforts and cooperation closely in this matter ,” he said.
“This is precisely one of the reasons why this new global and strategic partnership with Tunisia (...) is necessary ,” he continued.
He indicated that this year, "thanks to cooperation" with the EU, the Tunisian coast guard had carried out "nearly 24,000 interceptions of boats" carrying migrants, "compared to 9,376 in 2022" .
“In 2022, 32,459 lives were saved by the Tunisian border guards and coast guards. This year, we are already close to 50,000 lives saved thanks to this cooperation,” he assured .
The European Commissioner indicated that "the emphasis was placed on rapid implementation" of this partnership, also relating in particular to macro-economic stability , trade and investments.
“The socio-economic situation (in Tunisia) makes it all the more relevant for the European Union to engage strongly in the region ,” he said.
“This partnership is important in the long term, but it must also produce results in the short term ,” said Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers (EPP, right). “We are in September and already the number of arrivals in Europe via the central Mediterranean is at the same level as for the whole of last year ,” he said.
Frenchman Thierry Mariani (ID, far right) judged that there was an “urgent need to finalize” this partnership. Among the Greens, the Dutch Tineke Strik denounced a "dirty deal with the implacable dictator Saied" , which "incites violence against black migrants" .
“The EU cannot finance an authoritarian regime to outsource the management of migration with the sole aim of satisfying the right-wing forces in Europe ,” said Portuguese socialist MEP Pedro Marques.