Giorgia Meloni returns to Tunis to consolidate her migration cooperation project

Tunisia continues to occupy a special place in Giorgia Meloni's foreign policy

Giorgia Meloni returns to Tunis to consolidate her migration cooperation project

Tunisia continues to occupy a special place in Giorgia Meloni's foreign policy. For the fourth time in less than a year, the President of the Italian Council went to Tunis on Wednesday April 17 to meet her counterpart, President Kaïs Saïed.

Accompanied by a large ministerial delegation, Ms. Meloni only stayed a few hours in the Tunisian capital, before flying to the European Council meeting in Brussels. She took the opportunity to announce several cooperation protocols: direct support worth 50 million euros to the Tunisian state budget in favor of “energy efficiency and renewable energies”, a credit line of 55 million euros to support Tunisian small and medium-sized businesses and a framework agreement to lay the foundations for collaboration in the academic field.

During her “statement to the press” – to which journalists were not invited – Giorgia Meloni put forward, through these agreements, a “completely new”, “egalitarian” approach, based on “the interest mutual" of nations, which is part of its ambitious African policy, placed at the heart of its diplomacy and now inseparable from a migration strategy centered on the objective of putting an end to irregular arrivals on Italian territory.

“We can no longer deal with the migration issue in isolation with our African partners,” explains a highly placed Italian diplomatic source. It must be included in a global approach and take as a basis the requirements of the countries of departure and transit. »

Tunisia, test country for Italian African policy

Giorgia Meloni's vision, which initially comes from a story and a speech but which is gradually built from official visits to various agreements, integrates her concept of the "Mattei plan for Africa". Launched during the Italy-Africa summit on January 28 and 29, it must involve the entire government as well as the various players in the Italian economy. “This new visit by Giorgia Meloni to Tunisia aims to show that this plan is starting to have concrete applications and to project the image of diplomacy in action towards its international partners as well as its electorate,” explains Maria Fantappie, director of the Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa department at the Istituto Affari Internazionali, an influential Roman think tank, specifying that "Tunisia is the country where the Italian government's African policy was tested for the first time thanks to the relationship personal between the president of the council and Kaïs Saïed. »

The Tunisian president, who has increased warnings in recent days, repeating that his country would only deal with other nations "on an equal footing", seems to appreciate the rhetoric of Giorgia Meloni, the only European leader with whom he maintains such a regular dialogue, which carefully avoids addressing its authoritarian drift. During the visit, Mr. Saïed welcomed this collaboration and expressed his wish to “strengthen and diversify the ties of cooperation and partnership between the two friendly countries.”

A desire shared by Rome for which Tunisia represents many interests. In the energy field, in which Italy aims to become a “hub” between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the electricity networks of the two countries should, by 2025, be interconnected by the El Med submarine cable opening the way to exploit the vast potential of southern Tunisia in the production of solar and wind energy.

Tunisian territory also serves as a transit platform for Algerian gas to the Italian peninsula. Finally, Tunisia is an important outlet for nearly 900 companies from the peninsula, present on its territory.

On the migratory front, while spring brings favorable climatic conditions for crossings of the Mediterranean and the European elections in June approach, Giorgia Meloni is banking on Tunisia's cooperation to prevent the campaign from being affected by peaks. arrivals whose effects would be politically disastrous. Images from September 2023 showing an exceptional influx of more than 10,000 migrants from the shores of Tunisia to land on the island of Lampedusa had produced a wave of panic among European governments and called into question the relevance of the first efforts of the president of the Italian council on the Tunisian front.

Numerous human rights violations

Since this episode, the Tunisian authorities have carefully reaffirmed their control over the maritime border while strengthening, on land, the repression of exiles, increasing expulsion campaigns towards the borders of Algeria and Libya. If these were carried out at the cost of numerous human rights violations, Giorgia Meloni did not fail during her speech to “once again thank the Tunisian authorities” for the work carried out and to welcome the results of the “comprehensive strategic partnership” agreement signed, under its auspices, by the European Union and Tunisia, on July 16, 2023.

Beyond this displayed satisfaction, his visit comes in a context of increasing arrivals of migrants on the Italian shore from the Tunisian coast in recent weeks. If this trend remains to be put into perspective because they halved during the first four months of 2024 compared to the previous year, it nevertheless shows the volatility of Tunisian migration control.

President Kaïs Saïed thus reiterated, once again, his categorical refusal that his country be “a destination or a crossing point for irregular migrants”. In El Amra, a coastal region in east-central Tunisia, located more than a hundred kilometers from Lampedusa, there are thousands waiting, in extremely precarious conditions, to be able to cross the Mediterranean. The migration control delegated to Tunisia by the memorandum of July 2023, presented by Giorgia Meloni during its signing as “a model for the establishment of new relations with North Africa” and since duplicated with Egypt and soon the Mauritania, appears fragile today.