On 16 June, the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, the Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and the Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, agreed with the President of Tunisia, Kaïs Saied, to implement the comprehensive partnership package announced jointly on 11 June 2023. This came in the context of grave violations of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as an escalation of restrictions on civil and political rights.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) fails to address core human rights concerns observed in Tunisia, which include grave violations of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, as well as an escalation of restrictions on civil and political rights. This will put the European Union policies at risk of contributing to or perpetuating such violations and enabling impunity of those responsible.
The Commission and the Member States are making the European Union vulnerable to the whims and blackmail of yet another autocrat just for the sake of keeping migrants out. This will not solve any of the EU’s problems and will likely result in the unacceptable suffering of thousands of people stranded on Tunisian shores.
In reaction I and my colleagues Michael Gahler (EPP), Matjaž Nemec (S&D), and Mounir Satouri (Greens/EFA), wrote a letter and a written urgent question to the European Commission, expressing our concern, and asking how the Commission intended to ensure that the partnership package would not risk facilitating abuses and human rights violations.
We find the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Tunisia highly problematic in the context of the worsening of the rights of migrants, including collective expulsions at unsafe borders, violations during interceptions at sea and arrests by police of Black African migrants.
Independent civil society groups and independent media have also documented serious abuses against Black African migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in Tunisia in 2023 and prior years. The negotiation and finalisation of the MoU come at the time when Tunisian President Kaid Saied, in February 2023, held an inflammatory speech linking African migrants to crime and a “plot” to alter Tunisia’s demographic makeup, triggering a surge of racist attacks against Black Africans.
Both the Commission and the Council must make it clear that a crackdown on human rights is incompatible with a genuine partnership with the EU. Tunisian authorities must release arbitrarily jailed critics and actively uphold the principles of democracy.
In times like these, it is essential to empower Tunisia’s civil society. They are at the forefront of the fight for democracy and are instrumental in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all Tunisians. However, the Commission is ignoring civil society during the time when the most need our support. We need to support with Tunisian civil society organisations and human rights defenders.
This is why we demand the Commission reestablish the tripartite dialogue between civil society, the Tunisian government and the EU as part of the negotiations of partnerships with Tunisia. Especially when parliamentary democracy is being undermined, involving civil society is indispensable for the credibility of the European Union. We must condition any partnership with Tunisia on the respect of the rule of law and democracy.
We cannot falter in our commitment to the Tunisian people and their aspirations for freedom and justice. We must stand united in condemning the erosion of democracy and human rights in Tunisia and work together towards a future where our shared values can flourish to the benefit of both the EU and Tunisia.
You can find the letter and written question below: