Tunisia made the decision two days after the European Parliament held a debate on a migration pact with Tunis.
The European Parliament has “condemned” Tunisia’s decision to bar a delegation sent by its foreign affairs committee from entering the North African country.
The delegation, led by Member of European Parliament Michael Gahler, was expected to arrive in Tunisia on Thursday on a two-day visit following a previous trip in April 2022.
According to the European Parliament, Thursday’s visit was planned to “get a better insight into the current political situation in the country”. In a statement, the committee demanded a “detailed explanation” for the refusal to allow the delegation entry.
A Tunisian foreign ministry letter that communicated the decision was shared on social media but did not provide further details.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn in recent years. In July 2021 he sacked his government and suspended parliament. Since then he has rewritten the constitution to give the presidency far more power, cracked down on dissidents, and imprisoned opposition leaders.
Saied’s policies and behaviour have drawn international condemnation and raised concerns that he is returning Tunisia to the type of autocratic rule that was overthrown in a revolution more than a decade ago.
The move to bar the delegation from entering Tunisia comes after a heated debate in the European Parliament on Tuesday, during which politicians criticised the European Union’s controversial June migration pact with Tunisia, under which the EU promised Tunisia one billion euros (around $1.1bn) in support with about 10 percent of that amount being allocated to secure the borders of the North African country.
Rights bodies and rescue missions have condemned the deal, calling it “dangerous” and questioning how it would protect the vulnerable.
But politicians in the EU, particularly right-wing figures such as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, see the deal as vital to preventing the entry of refugees and migrants to Europe via Tunisia.
MEPs from the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee have also previously condemned the domestic political climate in Tunisia, accusing Saied of becoming more autocratic
Saied has also come under fire for rhetoric that many have called “racist” against sub-Saharan African refugees and migrants, which triggered police detentions and attacks.
Tunisia held elections in December 2022, which were boycotted by opposition parties and shunned by voters with a turnout rate of about 10 percent.
Thursday’s visit was expected to assess developments since the foreign affairs committee’s previous fact-finding mission to Tunisia in April 2022, when the European Parliament expressed concern that the country’s democratic standards and human rights were deteriorating.
This visit was scheduled to include meetings with civil society organisations, trade unions and opposition leaders, as well as representatives of political foundations and EU member states.
The European Parliament passed a resolution in March condemning the recent government attacks against freedom of expression and trade unions, which have been carried out through a number of arbitrary detentions.