European Union correspondent
European Union correspondent
On July 16, Prime Minister Rutte, her Italian colleague Meloni, and European Commission President von der Leyen stood happily next to each other in Tunisia. Laughing, they shook hands on behalf of “Team Europe,” a temporary coalition with no legal status, with Tunisian President Saied: “The Tunisia deal” was real.
The European Union will provide funds to support the local economy and in return Tunisia will prevent people who want to cross into the European Union in large numbers. Prime Minister Rutte He mentioned the agreement on Twitter “A real and necessary milestone to gain more control in the fight against illegal immigration.”
This optimism has now largely evaporated. The agreements remain as vague as they were nearly eight weeks ago. The deal was expected to be reached during the summer, but insiders say little progress has been made.
Discussions conducted by NOS with stakeholders show that the situation will not change quickly. They do not want to reveal their names because their position does not actually allow them to discuss details with the press. They say the Team Europe deal will take a long time to succeed, if it happens.
“Quick results are not realistic.”
One Brussels insider describes it as very frustrating, but it is not surprising that the agreements did not work immediately. “Looking back, we probably should have done more about managing expectations, because signaling that you expect results that quickly is not realistic.” There were warnings against wishful thinking, but the dealmakers chose to highlight the political reasons.
One thing is clear: the number of migrants coming to the European Union via Tunisia has not decreased, but rather has increased dramatically. About 30,000 people have arrived in Italy since July 16. In fact, August was the busiest migration month since October 2016, during the Syrian refugee crisis.
And now everyone seems dissatisfied: the EU member states, led by Italy, because the numbers are rising, the human rights organizations and the refugees, because the situation for migrants in Tunisia is getting worse. For example, shortly after the deal was concluded, dozens of migrants were found dead in the desert on the Tunisian border.
“Sleepwalking towards a new migration crisis”
MEP Teniki Streeck (GroenLinks) describes it as shortsighted as it was suggested that the deal would have a quick outcome. “It was actually just a huge show: Look, we’re in control, we’re going to settle it for a billion people. That’s not the way it works in practice. If people can’t stay somewhere because they’re in danger, then they try to run away. “
MEP Jeroen Lenners (CDA) also believes Team Europe could have been more cautious. “We’ve been talking about this kind of agreement for a long time. Now we’re finally ready to make it, but I don’t think it’s possible to create the illusion that you’ll have a very big impact in a few weeks of it. Such an agreement is realistic.”
He’s worried. He added, “We are again sleepwalking towards the migration crisis. The numbers have almost returned to the crisis level of 2016, and this is unbearable, even for the European community. So we must do something to reduce these numbers.”
“The Coast Guard lacks everything”
The European Union hopes that the huge increase in migrant departures will end this month. This is a vain hope, says one insider. “It will take even Sint Gotemis before the Tunisian coast guard can make a real difference. There is not only a shortage of boats, but of everything: people who know how to sail them, and the technology to help people at sea can make up for it.” They can be seen in boats, or on land, before boarding. But there is also no gas to be able to sail at all. Of the boats there, many are in poor condition. Bringing all of that to a standard level costs a lot of money and costs.”
And about the €105 million that now represents this amount, he says: “This may be a start, but it is not enough. It is a matter of years, not months, before we succeed in stopping people from trying to cross.”
“The transition should come next year.”
There are now many reasons to leave Tunisia. The economy is so weak that Tunisians themselves also resort to boats. President Saied continues to stoke hatred against migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.
Even before the deal was struck, there had been criticism that the EU would deal with the Tunisian president, who, regardless of his dictatorial leanings, is known to be very unpredictable. The European Union parties involved in the deal confirm this picture. “Everything depends on it. Without it nothing happens.”
One Brussels insider expects the significant decline to become evident next spring, when the weather becomes warmer and in principle more people dare to cross again. He hopes to leave at most several thousand people from Tunisia per month. This number is now achieved sometimes daily. “If transformation is not imminent, the agreement will not work.”
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