BRICS sees strength in numbers as it envisions a multipolar world order

Foreign ministers of BRICS nations with representatives of new prospective members in Cape Town. (Reuters)
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Updated 21 August 2023

BRICS sees strength in numbers as it envisions a multipolar world order

  • BRICS foreign ministers’ summit sets stage for a more ambitious role for five-nation bloc
  • Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi minister of foreign affairs, joins ministerial meeting of the ‘Friends of BRICS’

LONDON: Foreign ministers from BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have expressed their willingness to admit new members, including Saudi Arabia, as the bloc seeks a larger voice in the international arena. 

At a two-day conference in Cape Town on Thursday and Friday, attended by Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi minister of foreign affairs, the group presented itself as a force for a “rebalancing” of the global order away from Western-dominated institutions. 

Prince Faisal held bilateral talks with several of his counterparts and attended a ministerial meeting of the “Friends of BRICS” under the theme “Partnership for Mutually Accelerated Growth, Sustainable Development, and Inclusive Multilateralism.”

He also held talks with Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, to examine steps “to implement the agreement between the two countries signed in Beijing, including intensifying bilateral work to ensure international peace and security,” according to a statement from the Saudi delegation. 

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. (MOFA/Twitter)

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iran, Cuba, DRC, Comoros, Gabon, and Kazakhstan all sent representatives to Cape Town for the talks, while Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia participated virtually.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “more than a dozen” countries have expressed interest in joining BRICS. Meanwhile, Ma Zhaoxu, China’s vice foreign minister, told a press conference: “We expect more countries to join our big family.”

According to reports, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Algeria, Egypt, Bahrain, and Iran have all formally asked to join the BRICS, as have several other nations who appear intent upon recalibrating international ties in line with an increasingly multipolar world order.

According to the Financial Times, Saudi Arabia is also in talks with the New Development Bank, the Shanghai-based lender better known as the “BRICS bank,” to admit the Kingdom as its ninth member.   

A heads of state summit is scheduled to take place in Johannesburg in August.

The BRICS economic bloc is positioning itself as an alternative to Western-dominated centers of power. However, experts seem uncertain about its potential, pointing to innate divisions between the central BRICS powers and a lack of clarity on what membership might entail.

Nevertheless, for several countries seeking financial assistance, the stringent demands often attached to bailouts by Western-dominated institutions like the IMF and World Bank have proved increasingly unpalatable, leading many nations to look elsewhere for partnerships.

A Tunisian man and his children return home on their cart in the central Tunisian city of Sidi Bouzid. (AFP)

One such example is Tunisia. 

Battered by diminishing output, high debt and rampant inflation, with food and fuel prices spiking, many saw the IMF’s offer of a $1.9 billion loan as Tunisia’s only way out of an escalating economic and political crisis.

President Kais Saied disagreed with this perspective, however, making his views on the deal very clear at the start of April, rejecting demands to cut energy and food subsidies and reduce the public wage bill, which the loan had been made contingent upon.

“I will not hear diktats,” Saied said, noting the deadly riots that ensued in 1983 after bread prices were raised, telling Tunisians they instead had to “count on themselves.”

Others close to Saied seem to think that he has different plans to stop the country’s economic rot.

Echoing Saied, Mahmoud bin Mabrouk, a spokesperson for the pro-presidential July 25 Movement, told Arab News that Tunisia would “not accept diktats or interference” and would now look to the BRICS as “a political, economic and financial alternative that will enable Tunisia to open up to the new world.”

Should bin Mabrouk’s claim hold weight, Tunisia would become the latest North African country to gravitate toward the bloc after Algeria applied to join late last year.

Such a move would suggest that the BRICS bloc is an expanding entity offering an alternative to the IMF and World Bank for states seeking bailouts.

However, Jim O’Neill, the economist who coined the BRICS acronym, questions “what” Tunisia would actually be signing up for, describing the bloc as more of a “political club” than any defined economic grouping, and one that seems to have had negative effects financially.

“As I’ve argued before, since the politic club came around, ironically, its economic strength has weakened,” O’Neill told Arab News. He further questions what criteria the bloc would seek in new members, suggesting that in the case of Algeria and Tunisia “it all just seems (like) symbolism.”

Symbolism or not, Algeria and Tunisia are not alone in their pivot toward the nascent bloc, with Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkiye all considering tethering their futures to it.

Sarah Yerkes, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Middle East Program, believes that Tunisia’s move should be taken seriously as it represents “an intentional geopolitical shift on its behalf,” noting the increased criticism of Tunisia from both Europe and the US.

“Tunisia is desperate for financial assistance and since the West is focused on conditioning aid to Tunisia on democratic reforms, it makes sense that Saied would seek assistance from countries that are less concerned with human rights and freedom,” Yerkes told Arab News.

However, like O’Neill, she questions whether the BRICS can offer an alternative to the IMF and World Bank, pointing to the bloc’s weak record when it comes to “assisting other countries and helping them achieve real, sustained economic prosperity.”

Internally, the BRICS group, at least, seems confident that it can rival the West. And, with the group set to meet in Johannesburg this August, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor has reportedly suggested the launch of the economic bloc’s own currency, intended as a rival to dollar hegemony, would be firmly on the discussion table.

Even so, few commentators offer a defense of BRICS as a new economic bloc, with Elie Abouaoun, director of MENA at the US Institute of Peace, seeing Tunisia’s addition as a weight around the neck of a limited pool of “GDP contributors.”

The foreign ministers of South Africa and India. (Supplied)

“At this stage, the main contributors to global GDP among the BRICS countries are China and India, and most of the countries listed as potential candidates to become members are loan consumers rather than solid contributors to the global GDP,” Abouaoun told Arab News.

“With seven or eight new consumer countries integrating into the alliance, I see challenges for the largest BRICS member states and less, if any, financial benefit to the new ones. The alliance will certainly be weaker with more members so desperate to receive economic aid.”

Similarly, Liam Campling, professor of international business and development at Queen Mary University’s School of Business and Management, London, said that agreement by the BRICS cohort to admit Tunisia would be “slightly puzzling, given that it is a mid-level power.”

“When you look at the existing members, they are all sub-regional powers, each dominant in their part of the world, but when you look at Tunisia it is not dominant in North Africa in the same way Egypt is,” Campling told Arab News.

“So, from the BRICS perspective, it is not an obvious ally, but from the Tunisia side, it could obviously be an effort to garner wider macroeconomic support. Although what I think is happening is it is playing both sides, which is part of the play for any mid-ranking country.”

Campling’s skepticism stems from his assertion that while Tunisia may have fallen foul of the US, with increased political acrimony between the two, it is still very much economically “in bed” with the Europeans, adding “it’s not going to jeopardize its EU connections for this.”

And like the others, Campling has wider reservations about the BRICS project, pointing to what he terms the “central tension at the heart of it,” namely the long-running border disputes between China and India.

This, he suggests, renders the bloc more of an ad-hoc alliance than a cohesive unit that can direct global trade, policy and finance in a manner akin to that of the IMF or World Bank, and thus he questions the assertion that BRICS could become an alternative economic bloc.

“Essentially, I do not see it being able to offer a sustained alternative until that central tension between India and China is resolved, and I do not see that being resolved, which means there is nothing really holding it together, leaving little space for a more sustained role,” he said.

Abouaoun says what is really missing is a “normative model” that other countries can buy into beyond the BRICS bloc’s defense of “multipolarity.” Scratch beneath the surface and there seems to be an absence of substance — an opinion shared by Yerkes.

“At this point it doesn’t seem much more than a potential counterweight to Europe and the US, and without a foundational ideology, particularly with members with vastly different economic philosophies, it doesn’t seem likely that it would be a strong competitor,” she said.

Consensus on BRICS’ prospects notwithstanding, O’Neill is at odds with the others when it comes to the question of whether the world needs another economic bloc, believing focus should instead be on strengthening every economy, rather than acting in collectives.

Yerkes, Campling and Abouaoun seem less opposed to the notion of a new bloc, recognizing that US unipolarity seems to be on the way out. Nevertheless, they stress that the bloc’s value would be dependent on its make-up and its intentions.

Indeed, with the likes of Saudi Arabia potentially among its ranks, the BRICS could attain new levels of financial and diplomatic clout, transforming the international arena. 

“Historically, the dominance of the West, and its various international bodies and institutions, has been extremely self-serving, producing contradictory outcomes leading to a world that is more volatile and more uneven and increasingly depending on indebtedness,” Campling said.

“This has all been pushed in the interest of Europeans and the US. Maybe we should look to the 1970s and the Non-Aligned Movement — made up of many of those purportedly looking to join BRICS — for inspiration.”

Pakistani FM ‘hopeful’ flood aid promises will be fulfilled

Updated 16 sec ago

Pakistani FM ‘hopeful’ flood aid promises will be fulfilled

  • Pakistan was devastated by floods last year that inflicted over $30bn in damage, economic losses
  • While donors have pledged around $10bn in aid, it has yet to be disbursed

NEW YORK: Pakistan is “hopeful” that pledged reconstruction funding to rebuild parts of the country damaged by floods last year will be disbursed soon, Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said on Friday.

At a press conference during the UN General Assembly in New York, he told Arab News: “Pakistan is one of the worst affected as far as climate change is concerned because it has affected about 33 million people.

“One-third of the country was inundated with water, and about $30 billion worth of losses were suffered.”

Pakistan was devastated by the 2022 floods, which were the world’s deadliest since those in southern Asia in 2020.

About a month after last year’s disaster, Pakistan and other countries attending the UN Climate Change Conference in Egypt decided to establish the Loss and Damage Fund to assist countries in dealing with the effects of climate change.

Many donors have pledged funds to help Pakistan rebuild flood-affected areas. The Islamic Development Bank pledged more than $4 billion, the World Bank $2 billion and Saudi Arabia $1 billion.

“So far, there has been very little which has trickled down from the international community as far as the rehabilitation and reconstruction work that has to be carried out. Pakistan is doing that from its own resources,” Jilani told Arab News.

“Our banks are issuing loans on easy terms to all those people who were affected. But then obviously, there are limits to what the banking industry can do.

“This is the kind of situation we’re in. I think we’re hopeful that most of the promises which were made by the donors will be fulfilled shortly.”

Regarding foreign policy, Jilani described the formation of new blocs and rivalries in the Asia-Pacific region as “a very uncomfortable situation” for Pakistan.

“Asia-Pacific has been a very peaceful region, a prosperous region, and it has made great economic strides in the last 40-50 years. Any tension within the Asia-Pacific region, from our point of view, is certainly not good for peace and stability in the region,” he said, adding that Pakistan prioritizes good relations with all countries, specifically mentioning China and the US.

When asked about Islamabad’s potential to confront the Pakistani Taliban, which operates along the border with Afghanistan, Jilani said: “Afghanistan is a sovereign country. Pakistan follows a policy of non-interference … while respecting the sovereignty of other countries.

“At the same time, we have expectations that the Afghan side would take action against all groups who are violating Afghanistan’s soil to carry out terrorist activities against other countries.”

Jilani added that during a meeting between the foreign ministers of China, Pakistan and Afghanistan in May, “there was a reiteration of this commitment by the Afghan side that they won’t allow Afghan soil to be used against other countries.”

Jilani also praised Pakistan’s commitment to democracy and free elections. “We’re a democratic country. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. In Pakistan, when parliament has completed its full term, it’s a constitutional requirement that there’s a caretaker setup which is meant to ensure neutrality in the next elections,” he said.

“This is meant to ensure that the elections are free and fair, and is meant to ensure that people are able to participate in the voting process without any violence.”

Jilani said Pakistan is heavily involved in efforts to tackle Islamophobia in Europe, and had made a case for the criminalization of religious-based hate speech in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s Contact Group on Muslims in Europe.

“We also appreciated the introduction of a bill by the government of Denmark which would criminalize such offenses, either the burning of holy books or insulting the prophets of any religion. I think this is a good step they’ve taken,” he added, saying he is hopeful that if such a bill passed in Demark, other European nations may follow suit.

Blinken calls on India to cooperate on Canada killing probe

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 September 2023

Blinken calls on India to cooperate on Canada killing probe

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Indian agents played a role in the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, near Vancouver

NEW YORK: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on India Friday to cooperate with Canada and ensure “accountability” over the killing of a Sikh separatist, after Ottawa accused New Delhi of involvement.
Blinken said the United States has been in touch both with India, with which it has warming ties, and Canada, a close ally which expelled an Indian diplomat earlier this week.
“We want to see accountability. And it’s important that the investigation run its course and lead to that result,” Blinken told reporters in New York, where he was taking part in the UN General Assembly.
“We would hope that our Indian friends would cooperate with that investigation as well,” Blinken said.
Blinken, without commenting directly on the substance of the allegations, said that the United States took “very, very seriously” incidents of “transnational repression.”
“I think it’s important, more broadly, for the international system that any country that might consider engaging in such acts not do so,” he said.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that Indian agents played a role in the June murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, near Vancouver.
Trudeau on Thursday called on India to cooperate on the investigation.
Nijjar was wanted by India for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder. He was part of the Khalistan movement, which advocates a separate Sikh homeland and was crushed by Indian security forces in the 1980s.
India has come back swinging at Canada, reducing its diplomatic staff and stopping visa services.


Pakistan’s ‘first priority’ is countering terrorism from Afghanistan, PM tells UNGA

Updated 22 September 2023

Pakistan’s ‘first priority’ is countering terrorism from Afghanistan, PM tells UNGA

  • Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar welcomes Saudi-Iranian normalization, calls for two-state solution for Palestine
  • Premier says global powers should convince India to accept offer of mutual restraint on strategic weapons

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar on Friday called for action to halt militant attacks from neighboring Afghanistan, endorsed Saudi Arabia and Iran’s diplomatic rapprochement, and advocated a two-state solution as the path to enduring peace in Palestine.
Kakar achieved a historic milestone as the first caretaker prime minister of his country to address the annual United Nations General Assembly session in New York, where he tackled global issues ranging from extremist violence and relations with India to the escalating challenges of climate change and Islamophobia.
“Pakistan’s first priority is to prevent and counter all terrorism from and within Afghanistan,” he told representatives of UN member states. “Pakistan condemns the cross-border attacks by the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan), Daesh and other groups operating from Afghanistan.”
The prime minister’s statement follows a dramatic surge in militant violence in Pakistan, mainly in regions bordering Afghanistan, since the Taliban’s return to power in Kabul in August 2021.
Attacks in the first half of this year rose by 80 percent compared with the same period last year, according to statistics compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies.
“We have sought Kabul’s support and cooperation to prevent these attacks,” the prime minister said. “We are also taking necessary measures to end this externally encouraged terrorism.”
Kakar reiterated his country’s position that peace in Afghanistan was a “strategic imperative” for Pakistan, while sharing international concerns with respect to its neighbor, particularly those related to the rights of women and girls.
“We advocate continued humanitarian assistance for the destitute Afghan population in which Afghan girls and women are the most vulnerable, as well as the revival of Afghan economy and implementation of the connectivity projects with Central Asia,” he said.
Discussing Pakistan’s relations with its nuclear-armed neighbor, the prime minister said his country desired “peaceful and productive” relations with all neighbors, including India.
“Global powers should convince New Delhi to accept Pakistan’s offer of mutual restraint on strategic and conventional weapons,” he said, adding that Kashmir provided the key to peace between the neighboring states.
Pakistan and India both rule parts of the disputed Himalayan region while claiming it in full. They have fought two wars over the mountainous territory, and their forces frequently exchange fire across a 740 km (466 mile) line of control, the de facto border separating the two parts of Kashmir.
“We must counter all terrorists without discrimination, including the rising threat posed by far-right extremist and fascist groups, such as Hindutva-inspired extremists threatening genocide against Indian Muslims and Christians,” he said.
“We also need to oppose state terrorism, address the root cause of terrorism, such as poverty, injustice and foreign occupation, and distinguish genuine freedom struggles from terrorism.”
The prime minister proposed the creation of a committee of the general assembly to oversee the balanced implementation of all “four pillars of the global counter terrorism strategy.”
He also applauded the normalization of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, while commenting on the overall strategic situation in the Middle East.
“Pakistan welcomes the progress made toward ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. In particular, we warmly welcome the normalization of relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
Focusing on the Palestine issue, Kakar mentioned continued “Israeli military raids, air strikes, expansion of settlements and eviction of Palestinians.”
He said: “A durable peace can be established only through a two-state solution, and establishment of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state within the pre-June 1967 borders, with Al-Quds as its capital.”
The prime minister also mentioned the “age-old phenomenon” of Islamophobia, saying the problem had grown dramatically in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks in the US, and could be seen in the negative profiling of Muslims and public burnings of the Qur’an.
“The narratives advocating a clash of civilizations have done considerable harm to humanity’s progress,” he said. “Such ideas have bred extremism, hatred and religious intolerance, including Islamophobia.”
Kakar welcomed legislation initiated by Denmark and contemplated by Sweden to ban desecration of the Islamic scripture.
“Pakistan and the OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) countries will propose further steps to combat Islamophobia, including the appointment of a special envoy, creation of an Islamophobia data center, legal assistance to victims and an accountability process to punish Islamophobic crimes,” he said.
Discussing the climate change issue, Kakar said Pakistan looked forward to fulfilling the climate commitments made at COP28 by developed countries to provide over $100 billion in annual climate finance.
“Pakistan’s triple food finance fuel challenge is a prime illustration of the impact of COVID conflict and climate on developing countries,” he said, adding that Pakistan was one of the countries worst hit by climate change.
Flooding in Pakistan last year submerged one-third of the country, killed 1,700 people, displaced over 8 million others, destroyed vital infrastructure and caused over $30 billion damage to the economy, Kakar said.
“We are gratified by the commitment of over $10.5 billion for the Pakistan’s comprehensive plan for recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction with resilience,” he said.
“Specific projects are being submitted to ensure timely funding. I hope our development partners will accord priority to the allocation of funds for our recovery plan which costs $13 billion.”

Pope Francis urges Europe to save migrants at sea

Updated 22 September 2023

Pope Francis urges Europe to save migrants at sea

  • As European nations have sought to shift responsibility for taking care of people arriving by sea, the pope singled out "the disinterest that, with velvet gloves, condemns others to death"
  • "People who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued," he said

MARSEILLE, France: Pope Francis on Friday said European governments have a duty to rescue asylum-seekers who take to sea to escape conflict, warning against a "paralysis of fear, on the first day of a visit to the French Mediterranean city of Marseille.
Streets and monuments were decked out in the yellow and white colours of the Vatican for the first visit by a pope to France's second-largest city in 500 years, where 100,000 people are expected to turn out to greet the pontiff in his "popemobile" on Saturday.
The 86-year-old is visiting to take part in a meeting of Mediterranean-area Catholic bishops and young people -- but his trip comes at a politically sensitive time.
As European nations have sought to shift responsibility for taking care of people arriving by sea, the pope singled out "the disinterest that, with velvet gloves, condemns others to death".
"People who are at risk of drowning when abandoned on the waves must be rescued," he said at the hilltop Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, overlooking the glistening Mediterranean waters.
In remarks dedicated to migrants lost at sea, he said "it is a duty of humanity, it is a duty of civilisation" to save people in danger, warning governments against the "fanaticism of indifference" and "paralysis of fear".
The Pope had earlier been greeted by France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, who has vowed the country will not take in any of a recent wave of migrants arriving on the Italian island of Lampedusa, declaring France "wants a position of firmness".
A surge in migrant boats arriving from North Africa on the tiny Italian island last week triggered outrage in Italy and a heated debate across Europe over how to share responsibility for the influx.
The desperate conditions that cause many people to leave their homes for a new life, and the risks they take to do so, have been a key theme during Francis' decade as head of the Catholic Church.
In unprepared remarks added at the end of his speech the pope thanked NGOs rescuing migrants in danger at sea and condemned efforts to prevent their activity as "gestures of hate".
"We hope this will have an impact and people will stop criminalising what we're doing, on the contrary that more resources will be deployed to save more people," Fabienne Lassalle, deputy director of SOS Mediterrannee, told AFP.
The aid group has been running rescue missions in the Mediterranean since 2015, with its ship the Ocean Viking sometimes held in port by authorities or denied permission to dock after pulling people from the water.
Appearing frail but alert and cheerful, Francis mostly got around by wheelchair on the first day of his visit, standing only at select moments such as when greeted by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on the airport tarmac.
He was driven him through the Old Port of Marseille in a distinctive Fiat 500L car, where he waved from the open window as crowds lined the streets.
But he used the wheelchair again to get around the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, a symbolic monument overlooking the city, for a prayer service with local clergy, and the car was brought as close as possible for his departure after his remarks on sea rescues.
Ahead of what is his 44th overseas trip, Francis acknowledged this month that his papal voyages are not as easy as they used to be.
Pope Francis underwent hernia surgery in June, less than two years after having colon surgery, and routinely uses a wheelchair because of a troublesome knee.
Despite the decline in France of Catholicism, the once dominant faith, the pope's visit has sparked huge enthusiasm, with almost 60,000 people expected at a mass on Saturday afternoon.
For Joseph Achji, a 25-year-old Syrian Christian originally from Aleppo, the pope's visit is a "chance of a lifetime".
On Saturday morning, Francis will take part in the closing session of the "Mediterranean Meetings" event.
As well as migration, it will cover issues such as economic inequality and climate change -- also themes close to the pope's heart.
On Saturday afternoon, Francis will lead a mass at the Velodrome stadium, with French President Emmanuel Macron among those due to attend.
Macron's attendance has sparked controversy among left-wing politicians in the officially secular country.
Some right-wing politicians have criticised the pope's stance on migrants -- but Marseille mayor Benoit Payan said the pontiff "has a universal message... of peace".

EU to start paying Tunisia under migration pact

Updated 22 September 2023

EU to start paying Tunisia under migration pact

  • Tunisia will get 105 million euros to curb irregular migration, 150 million euros in budgetary support and 900 million euros in long-term aid
  • EU lawmakers, the bloc’s ombudsman and migrant assistance charities have questioned whether the deal with Tunisia meets European rights standards

Brussels: The EU is to start releasing money to Tunisia under a pact aimed at stemming irregular migration from the country, the European Commission said Friday.
A first payment of $135 million will be disbursed “in the coming days,” a commission spokeswoman, Ana Pisonero, said.
EU lawmakers, the bloc’s ombudsman and migrant assistance charities have questioned whether the deal with Tunisia meets European rights standards.
Under the agreement, a memorandum of understanding signed by commission chief Ursula von der Leyen in July, Tunisia will get 105 million euros to curb irregular migration, 150 million euros in budgetary support and 900 million euros in long-term aid.
Tunisia is one of the main launching points for boats carrying migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean for Europe, with most heading for Italy, in particular its island of Lampedusa.
The EU deal, strongly supported by Italy’s far-right government, aims to bolster Tunis’s coast guard to prevent boats leaving its shore. Some of the money also goes to UN agencies assisting migrants.
Pisonero said that, of the 127 million euros to be “swiftly” disbursed, 42 million euros came under the migration aspect of the July deal.
The rest was for previously agreed programs, with 60 million euros to help Tunisia with its budget.
The North African country is struggling with high debt and poor liquidity, and has suffered bread and power shortages.
Its hopes of accessing a $1.9-billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund are hobbled by a refusal to undertake IMF-mandated reforms.
Tunisian President Kais Saied has been criticized in Brussels for increasingly authoritarian rule.
The EU ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, last week demanded the commission explain how the pact with Tunisia will not breach human rights standards.
MEPs have also raised that question, pointing out that hundreds of sub-Saharan migrants in Tunisia had allegedly in recent months been taken to the desert near the Libyan border and left to fend for themselves.
Tunisia has bristled at the criticism, and last week barred entry to a European Parliament fact-finding delegation.