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The European Union and Tunisia announce progress on economic and trade relations and on migration

TUNIS, Tunisia (AP) — European leaders and Tunisia’s president on Sunday announced progress in building hoped-for closer economic and trade ties and in measures to combat the often deadly smuggling of migrants across the Mediterranean.

The leaders of Italy, the Netherlands and the European Commission made their second visit to Tunis in just over a month. They expressed the hope that a new memorandum signed with Tunisia during the trip would pave the way for a comprehensive partnership.

During their last visit in June, leaders kept pledges of more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in financial aid to rescue Tunisia’s floundering economy and strengthen border security, in a bid to restore stability in the north. -African land and counter migration from the coasts to Europe.

This time, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte did not detail the full monetary value of EU aid to Tunisia, in statements they made after talks with Tunisian President Kais Saied.

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But von der Leyen said the latest trip had agreed on “a comprehensive package of measures that we will now quickly put into practice”.

Specific aid she announced included a 10 million euros ($11 million) program to boost student exchanges and 65 million euros ($73 million) in EU funding to modernize Tunisian schools.

On migration, von der Leyen said, “We need effective cooperation more than ever.”

The EU will work with Tunisia on an anti-smuggling partnership, will strengthen coordination of search and rescue operations and both sides have also agreed to cooperate on border management, she said. Von der Leyen pledged 100 million euros ($112 million) for those efforts — an amount she had already announced during the leaders’ previous visit.

Rutte described the new memorandum as the “promising start of a comprehensive strategic partnership” between the EU and Tunisia aimed at boosting economic growth.

He said EU member states must now approve the deal, adding: “I am confident there will be broad support.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of migration issues at https://apnews.com/hub/migration

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