TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — European leaders and Tunisia’s president announced progress on Sunday in the building of hoped-for closer economic and trade relations and on measures to combat the often lethal smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean Sea.
The leaders of Italy, the Netherlands and the European Commission made their second visit to Tunis in just over a month. They expressed hope that a memorandum newly signed with Tunisia during the trip would pave the way for a comprehensive partnership.
On their last visit in June, the leaders held out the promise of more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in financial aid to rescue Tunisia’s teetering economy and better police its borders, in an effort to restore stability to the North African country and to stem migration from its shores to Europe.
This time, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte didn’t detail the full monetary value of EU aid on offer to Tunisia, in statements they made after talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied.
But Von der Leyen said the latest trip secured agreement on “a comprehensive package of measures that we will now put into practice swiftly.”
Specific aid that she announced included a 10-million euro ($11 million) program to boost exchanges of students and 65 million euros ($73 million) in EU funding to modernize Tunisian schools.
On migration, Von der Leyen said: “We need an effective cooperation more than ever.”
The EU will work with Tunisia on an anti-smuggling partnership, will increase coordination in search and rescue operations and both sides also agreed to cooperate on border management, she said. Von der Leyen pledged 100 million euros ($112 million) for those efforts — a figure she had already announced on the leaders’ previous visit.
Rutte described the new memorandum as the “promising start of a comprehensive strategic partnership” between the EU and Tunisia that will aim to boost economic growth.
He said that EU member countries now have to approve the deal, adding: “I’m very confident that there will be broad support.”
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