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President Meloni’s press statement during her visit to Tunisia

Tuesday, 6 June 2023

[The following video is available in Italian only]

Good afternoon everyone.

I am very pleased with today’s long and fruitful meeting with President Saied, whom I wish to thank for his welcome. I will also be meeting with Prime Minister Bouden shortly. The institutional visit we have organised in Tunisia today is a very important one: Italy and Tunisia are two nations that are historically linked, they are friends that have very long-standing ties and must be able to cooperate together, more and more, better and better, just as we intend to. Stabilisation of the political and security situation, growth of democracy in Tunisia, is of course essential for Tunisia, but also for Italy, as this will allow us to together achieve the potential that, in our view, is extraordinary. 

In what is certainly a difficult period for the international scenario, and also for Tunisia and the entire region, I wanted to give President Saied confirmation of Italy’s comprehensive support. Support, for example, for Tunisia’s budget, opening lines of credit to above all favour development, starting with small and medium-sized enterprises through to issues linked to the agri-food sector. This is a further commitment that is in addition to Italy’s numerous cooperation projects in the country, which amount to approximately EUR 700 million overall and focus on areas that are a priority for development: agriculture, education, professional training, healthcare and basic services.

With full respect for Tunisia’s sovereignty, I told President Saied about the efforts that a nation and friend like Italy is doing to try and reach a positive conclusion for the agreement, understanding, between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund, which remains key for the country to become stronger and fully recover. We have supported Tunisia in its negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, both at European Union level and G7 level, with a pragmatic approach, because the approach has to be pragmatic, clearly while taking into consideration the Fund’s operating rules. At European Union level, Italy has advocated a concrete approach to increase support for Tunisia, both with regard to combating human trafficking and illegal immigration and also for an integrated support package of important funding and opportunities, which is being worked on in Brussels. I am very grateful to the Commission for the work that has been carried out and, to speed up implementation of this European Union package, I have confirmed my readiness to President Saied to return here to Tunisia very soon, also together with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. 

Our bilateral relations continue to be very solid. In 2022, trade between our two countries exceeded EUR 7 billion and Italy is Tunisia’s largest partner, which is also thanks to the stable presence of more than 900 companies that operate in Tunisia. We are continuing to decisively increase investments and employment opportunities in the country. 
There is a great opportunity for development in the relationship between Italy and Tunisia which, from our point of view, is provided by the energy sector. Cooperation between Italy and Tunisia in the energy sector is being strengthened thanks to the ‘Elmed’ submarine electricity cable. Also in this regard, Italy did important work to ensure funding was guaranteed. This is strategic infrastructure that further links the destiny of our two nations, allowing both Italy and Tunisia to become energy supply hubs for their surrounding regions: for Europe in Italy’s case, and for the supply needs of African countries, in particular North Africa.

With regard to our bilateral relations overall, our work to fight irregular migration is also very important, a phenomenon that affects both Tunis and Rome. We have agreed with President Saied that it is fundamental to strengthen cooperation in this area based on an approach to the phenomenon that cannot focus only on security, but must be comprehensive and take into consideration people’s right not to have to emigrate, not to have to flee their homes, their families and their lands because they don’t have an alternative.
We have so far done excellent work together with Tunisia. Irregular arrivals by boat significantly decreased in Italy in May compared with what happened in March and April. This reflects the work we are doing together. From this point of view, we are now facing the most difficult season and we can only be concerned about the coming months, which is why we believe we must intensify our work together, strengthening cooperation with the Tunisian authorities with regard to prevention activities, especially in the Sfax region where the majority of irregular immigrants depart from. We have already contributed, and continue to contribute, to Tunisia’s border management capabilities and we are ready to do more also with the involvement of the European Union which, as I said, we are working on. As we were saying, a security-based approach is not enough if significant work is not then also carried out regarding investments, development, training, regular migration flows and the possibility to offer people better living conditions. We are very committed to this and, in particular, to the needs of the younger generations; we are focusing our efforts on them. This is precisely what Italy’s ‘Mattei Plan for Africa’ project, named after the founder of ENI, is all about: cooperation that is not paternalistic or predatory in nature but equal, allowing everyone to defend their own national interest, with cooperation that offers opportunities for all. 

From this point of view, there is also the idea, which we have discussed with President Saied, to hold an international conference in Rome on the subject of migration and development, to try and bring together all the needs linked to what is certainly a very imposing phenomenon, all aspects of which need to be tackled.
We see this as an opportunity to bring together Southern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern nations, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, to listen to their different needs and create projects to attract funding, involving both the public and the private sector. We will do our best to come up with an event of this kind as quickly as possible, in order to renew the common commitment to address the political and also the social-economic and climate factors that cause migration, to support legal mobility routes and to effectively combat human trafficking, migrant trafficking. So, as you can see, we have discussed many issues with President Saied, whom I wish to thank once again, together with all the Tunisian people, for what has certainly been an extraordinary welcome, and for the very concrete work we are doing. 
Thank you.

[Courtesy translation]