The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will be in Tunis on Sunday with Giorgia Meloni, President of the Italian Council and Mark Rutte, Dutch Prime Minister. Why this visit, what will be said and, above all, what will not be said.
Nowadays, dictators are multiplying. The great powers pamper them and do everything to obtain their favors. Gone are the days of lessons and interference, they no longer have their place, even on the front line, realpolitik takes precedence over everything.
Even if he is not (yet) a real dictator, Kaïs Saïed is in line with his Arab counterparts and in particular his friend Abdelfattah Sissi, President of Egypt where there are some sixty thousand political prisoners. In Tunisia, we are still in our thirties, which makes Kaïs Saïed a president who can be visited without any problem for the leaders of the European Union.
The interest in Tunisia is neither sudden nor trivial. Europeans, especially those in the south, hold Tunisia in high esteem and appreciate its stability. Its weakening threatens them directly.
When the country made its revolution in 2011, the European Union was in the front line to support it. Some 1.6 billion euros have been disbursed in ten years and 2.36 billion euros committed and contracted. We are talking about donations, subsidies, investments and above all budget support.
Conversely, Tunisia has a vital need for the European Union. It is where the majority of its diaspora resides, a major supplier of foreign currency, and it is where most of its foreign trade takes place.
In figures, 67% of Tunisian exports go to the European Union, while imports constitute only 48%.
85% of foreign direct investment comes from the European Union and Tunisia currently has more than three thousand European companies directly generating 350 thousand jobs.
With all this data and all this history, Ursula von der Leyen will therefore come on Sunday as a true partner of Tunisia and will speak to Kaïs Saïed as a friend.
And if she is in Tunis, with Mark Rutte and Giorgia Meloni, it is to try to convince this friend to water his wine and start the reform program he has submitted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
A reform program which should have started at the end of 2021 and resulted in a series of credits including 1.9 billion euros from the IMF. Otherwise, the country risks an economic collapse, as Josep Borell, head of European diplomacy, declared last March.
Except that here, Kaïs Saïed stubbornly refuses foreign diktat. His government teams may wet the jersey to obtain the agreement, he acts exactly the opposite. The idea of the president is that the reform plan will impoverish the people, especially with regard to the lifting of allowances. The other idea is that the reform plan provides for the privatization of certain public enterprises, which is contrary to its ideology, closer to Soviet communism than to economic liberalism.
Kaïs Saïed being what he is and not letting himself be convinced by his own government, the European Union sent several emissaries to push him to reform. It was a veritable parade of ministers since March. The Tunisian president remained straight in his boots. Faced with the failure of the missions of all the emissaries, Emmanuel Macron and Giorgia Meloni went down to the field. The French president called his Tunisian counterpart last Sunday and the Italian president of the council came in person last Tuesday. Apparently without success, since Ms Meloni seems to have called for help from Ms Von der Leyen and Mr Rutte for a visit this Sunday. Visit not initially planned in the timetables.
If the European Union is acting like this, almost in total panic, it is because it cannot afford instability in Tunisia, as one European diplomat put it. The first to pay the price will be Italy and that is why it is doing everything to ensure that the country obtains its IMF credit.
However, the IMF refuses to disburse the first tranche until Tunisia has started its reforms.
Worse still, the $1.9 billion credit expired. It was calculated on the basis of forecasts made for the 2022-2023 budgets, but we are already in mid-2023 and all the previous figures have become wrong. The dossier therefore needs to be revised and updated.
By coming to Tunis herself, Ursula von der Leyen will attempt the mission of the last chance to convince a stubborn, even narrow-minded president.
To “cajole” him, she will avoid all angry subjects, especially those related to flouted human rights and the emerging dictatorship in the country. There will therefore be no interference in the internal affairs of the country. Not a word either on the independence of its justice.
She will also avoid talking about the thousands of Tunisians poached by Europeans in the medical, engineering and catering sectors.
Finally, she will avoid talking about the unfailing support given to the Islamists over the past ten years.
If Tunisia is in the current situation, it is because of the disastrous policy carried out since the revolution which has been strongly supported by the Europeans.
Of course, there will be little mention of the inhuman treatment of Tunisian migrants in Italian detention centers.
Aware of all this, Kaïs Saïed acts with a cool head and does not seem to see the danger feared by the Europeans, and in particular the Italians.
He is not against the credit of the IMF per se (if we refer to the statements of its Minister of Foreign Affairs), he is against measures that impoverish the people. He therefore wants to obtain the budget support credit without the conditions, that is to say without the reforms.
Is it crazy? Perhaps, but Kaïs Saïed is sincere and firmly believes that he can circumvent painful reforms and save the country without going through the box of the IMF.
To hear his latest statements, the Tunisian president wants to rely on his own Tunisian-Tunisian resources, but also on the return of the stolen money that is still dormant in European banks.
Kaïs Saïed is an atypical comparable to the deceased Gueddafi and Castro or the current Lula and Ortega.
Therefore, Ursula von der Leyen must take it as it is (she has no choice besides) and do everything not to offend him.
Will she succeed? We should not bet too much on it, all the European emissaries have failed, up to Giorgia Meloni and Emmanuel Macron to whom he only offered beautiful phrases and his very rare smile.
Since his election in 2019 and his putsch in 2021, Kaïs Saïed has always been consistent on one point: he does not allow himself to be intimidated by anyone.
This article is originally published on news.dayfr.