Latest News, MEIG Highlights 5 septembre 2023

Highlight 25/2023 – EU conditionality in migration management is problematic

Imed Methnani, 5 September 2023

Since the beginning of cooperation between the EU and Tunisia in managing illegal migration during the seventies, the EU in all the bilateral conventions, relied on the policy of conditionality as the primary tool to guarantee Tunisia’s cooperation and commitment. These bilateral agreements included the association agreement (1995), the EuroMed Partnership (1995), the European neighborhood policy (2004), the Union for the Mediterranean (2008), the Mobility Partnership (2014), and the New Migration and Asylum Pact (2020).

These legal frameworks encompassed three types of conditionality. Through negative conditionality, the EU provides financial support to Tunisia with specific terms on how it is to be spent and in return, the EU expects Tunisia to respond positively to its demands. In the event of a failure to “cooperate”, Tunisia faces the possible reduction or suspension of the financial support.

With the revolution in Tunisia and the political change that came with it, in addition to the fact that negative conditionality did not achieve the expected results, since 2011 the EU has shifted to positive conditionality. This is sometimes referred to as a “more for more” policy and according to these policies, it is for Tunisia to decide what steps and policies it should take to address illegal migration to the EU and be rewarded accordingly. This approach is incentive-based as the more Tunisia takes practical steps toward curbing illegal migration, the better it is rewarded by the EU. Through this new model of conditionality, the EU promoted competition amongst its partners to be more proactive to meet the EU’s expectations on illegal migration management in order to receive more financial support.

In both models, EU support is conditional on the positive management of illegal migration. The EU has since added another element to the equation, which is democratic reforms. Under this new triangular conditionality, EU support is used to incentivize both the good management of illegal migration and democracy-building. Accordingly, only partners committed to building solid democracies and upholding human rights and that are prepared to “meet the EU’s objectives in terms of readmission and border management are entitled to EU support”. 

In my view, the philosophy of conditionality is a harmful layer in the cooperation between the EU and Tunisia. Instead, the EU should consider Tunisia’s needs as defined by Tunisians. Assisting Tunisia in addressing these needs will incentivize and improve the management of illegal migration, achieving the EU’s goals more effectively.

Imed Methnani, Highlight 25/2023 – EU conditionality in migration management is problematic, 5 September 2023, available at

The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the authors and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva. 


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