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Erratic Saïed jeopardises cash for migrants deal with Brussels

European officials bristle after autocratic leader dismisses their offer as 'derisory'

The future of the €785 million (US$828m) 'cash for migrant control' deal between Tunisia and the European Union is in question after President Kaïs Saïed dismissed a €60m payment by Brussels as 'derisory' and 'charity'. This is despite the payment having been formally requested by his finance minister Samir Saïed on 31 August.

The President's comments shocked European Commission officials, prompting EU Neighbourhood Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi to say that Tunisia was free to 'wire back' the €60m if it did not want the cash.

'Tunisia, which accepts cooperation, does not accept anything resembling charity or favour, because our country and our people do not want sympathy and do not accept it when it is without respect,' President Saïed said in a statement.

This may be an attempt by Saïed to re-open the financial settlement that was agreed with the Commission in mid-July, which provides for up to €785m in budget support and investment (AC Vol 64 No 15, Saïed wins €1 billion windfall in EU migration deal).

This public dispute undermines the strategy of the EU leaders, especially Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. They led the EU's negotiations, taking some political credit for them. Von der Leyen has made 'cash for migrant control' deals with North African states part of her pitch for a second term as Commission President.

Support for the Tunisia deal across EU capitals has softened in recent weeks. EU leaders enthusiastically supported the deal at a summit in Brussels in June, agreeing a communiqué that described the Tunisia pact as a model for similar deals with Egypt and other African states (AC Vol 64 No 19, Heart of the migration storm).

In recent weeks, many in Brussels have pushed back against the deal. In September, both EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel complained that normal procedures had not been followed in drawing up the Memorandum of Understanding with Tunisia (AC Vol 64 No 16, Bang to rights). 

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