EU sends Belgian, Portuguese foreign ministers to Tunisia

EU sends Belgian, Portuguese foreign ministers to Tunisia
Credit: Belga

The EU on Monday asked Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib and her Portugese counterpart Joao Gomes Cravinho to visit Tunisia amid mounting concern over the economic and political situation there, and a possible increase in the flow of migrants to Europe as a result.

"The situation in Tunisia is very very dangerous," EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel told journalists on Monday after a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels.  “If it collapses economically or socially then we’ll be in a situation where new flows of migrants will come to Europe.”

Mr. Borrell said the two ministers had been asked to "assess the situation and come back with a report that will guide our future steps."

Crackdowns on political figures and migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa

The multiple sources of concern in Tunisia include an ongoing economic crisis characterised by 10.4% inflation and over 15% unemployment.

On the political front, the arrest of over 20 opposition figures in recent weeks has been widely criticised, both in Tunisia and internationally.

So has a crackdown on migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa following a 21 February speech by President Kais Saed, described as "racially motivated."

In his speech, the Tunisian president had referred to the presence of black African migrants in Tunisia as a "Sub-Saharan occupation" linked to "attempts to alter the demographic composition of Tunisia."

Inauguration of a new parliament with limited powers

The EU meeting coincided with the inauguration, also on Monday, of a new parliament with limited prerogatives, resulting from marred elections held under a new constitution approved by referendum on 25 July 2022. That was one year after President Saed awarded himself sweeping powers by suspending the old parliament, dissolving it and dismissing the government.

The new constitution established a hyper-presidentialist system, drastically slashing the powers of Parliament, which had been the real centre of power after the fall of previous strongman Zine El Abidine Ben Ali  following the first Arab Spring revolt in 2011.

The new Assembly of People’s Representatives, elected in rounds in December and January marked by massive abstention (nearly 89%), held its first meeting on Monday, broadcast live by public television, at its headquarters in Bardo, a suburb near Tunis.

Only the official Tunisian media were allowed to cover the meeting: representatives of the private press and foreign journalists were kept away, according to a correspondent for French news agency AFP.

Main parties refuse to recognise new parliament

The new parliament has 161 members, but only 154 seats have been filled so far. It has just 25 women. After taking the oath of office, the legislators were scheduled to elect the speaker of parliament and his two deputies.

The main opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) coalition, said in a statement that it did not recognise the new parliament “born out of a coup constitution and elections that were rejected by the overwhelming majority of voters.”

The main faction in the parliament dissolved in 2021, the conservative Islamic Ennahdha party, also said in a statement that it refused to recognise “a parliamentary assembly devoid of any legitimacy.”

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