Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party, is demanding tangible results from Tunisia on curbing migration.
Weber is visiting the North African country to follow up on a deal struck by the EU with its President, Kais Saied, in July.
The EU is to send more than €1 billion to Tunisia in exchange for Saied clamping down on illegal Mediterranean migrants leaving the country for Europe.
Since the deal was struck there has not been a significant fall in the number of migrants making the journey and, with European money on the line, Weber and others are now calling for Tunisia to deliver.
“We are talking about a lot of European taxpayers’ money here, and the figures have to come down,” Weber said.
“I can’t explain to the European taxpayer that we are spending so much tax money here if we don’t get clear results.”
On X, formerly Twitter, he posted a photo of himself talking with Saied, saying that the illegal boat journeys by migrants “must come down”.
Extensive discussion with President Saïed in Tunisia 🇹🇳 on the economic and migration challenges we face. The deepening of our partnership is crucial to create a safer and more prosperous region. The number of people making the deadly illegal crossings to Europe must come down. pic.twitter.com/PBa2t0wSA1
— Manfred Weber (@ManfredWeber) August 29, 2023
The deal provoked some controversy at a European Commission press briefing on August 29.
According to the latest UN figures, in the weeks following the agreement or “memorandum of understanding” with Saied, illegal arrivals into Europe increased rather than decreased.
Pressed on that by journalists, the EC insisted that the deal was still in its initial stages and that it was too early to fairly evaluate it.
The main bone of contention was the human-rights record of the Tunisian regime. While the fact that Saied has grown increasingly authoritarian in domestic politics has already raised eyebrows, his government’s treatment of migrants has rendered the deal outrageous to some.
Tunisia has allegedly been rounding up hundreds of illegal migrants and simply dumping them on the desert border with conflict-torn Libya, apparently with little food or water.
Saying that his visit was “first and foremost a party political trip” for the EPP, the European Union’s biggest political group, Weber emphasised his determined to champion the group’s “results-oriented approach on migration”.
He contrasted his group’s approach to that of those further to the Left and Right.
The Right he accused of “needlessly fearmongering”, saying that people such as Jarosław Kaczyński – leader of Poland’s Conservative Law and Justice party – use mass migration to “scare” voters.
The Left “on the other hand … moralise and say that we can’t talk to Tunisia, that they are no partners for us, because there are some videos from the desert or something, these are the moralisers,” he said.
Taking the centre-ground position may be difficult for the EPP. In the European Parliament the EPP is backing the EU’s new Migration Pact and has already found itself outnumbered by both the Left and Right, the former saying the Pact is too harsh on migrants, the latter saying it is too lax.