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Prime Minister, Minister, it is a pleasure for me to welcome you back to Brussels two months after your last visit, at this particularly important, tragic time in the history of Tunisia, following the attack in Sousse. We had a meeting with the ministers today, for more than two hours, and this is important, because we are agreed on the need to see a strong, stable Tunisia, pursuing its path to democracy. There is a strong political will in the European Union to support Tunisia in its democratic transition, at this difficult time for its economy, especially for its tourism industry, and at a difficult time in terms of security challenges and the fight against terrorism, in which we are all united.
The partnership between Tunisia and the European Union is particularly important to us Europeans, as we have demonstrated over the years. Our economic and financial assistance has doubled since 2011. We intend to provide even greater support for your reform efforts, in order to develop a partnership which is a genuine partnership, and which is really privileged. It is in our interests too to make sure that Tunisia remains an example to the region. Not just for Tunisia, not just for the Tunisian people, but also to keep hope alive in one of the most uncertain regions in the world.
After the attack in Sousse, following on from the attack on the Bardo, our discussions today focussed on urgent security challenges. But this was not our only topic of discussion with the ministers. The EU and its Member States have been engaged in supporting security sector reform in Tunisia for several years. We have a programme of EUR 23 million earmarked for 2016. This has been fast-tracked so that work can start in the next few months.
This bilateral programme includes an important border security component, which is also a key element of many other programmes.
Today we have discussed ways of going further, and mobilising expertise from all Member States to help Tunisia.
There are various matters on which we can work together in the area of security and the fight against terrorism - particularly the security services, but also the legal approach, and border security - we have talked a great deal about this and about joint projects in the area - preventing radicalisation, the problem of foreign fighters, communication, terrorist financing. These are projects which must be put into effect quickly, as was specifically discussed with the Prime Minister and the Foreign Ministers of the 28 today.
In addition to security, we had a long discussion on EU support for the Tunisian transition, which we are stepping up, support for your government's reforms, to continue democratic consolidation, in particular with the implementation of the 2014 Constitution, and in the economic sphere, to boost growth and employment, in particular youth employment, and to reduce Tunisia's regional development disparities.
In this respect, the start of negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) between the EU and Tunisia, which you have proposed to start in October, will send a very positive signal to investors, starting with European investors, of course.
We have recently speeded up preparation of all our cooperation programmes for this year, which include substantial support for the economic development of the Tunisian regions, for the process of decentralisation laid down in the Constitution, and also for the cultural sector. We are also working on the best way to support the Tunisian tourist industry in the hard times it is currently going through.
With the Foreign Ministers and my Commissioner colleagues we are looking closely at ways of supporting sectors dear to Tunisian hearts, which I know provide significant support for the Tunisian economy: not only mobility, education, university exchanges - we discussed the Erasmus programme - young people, innovation, research and a sector which is particularly important for the Tunisian economy, agriculture, particularly olive oil.
I know that this sector is important for you personally, Prime Minister, and also for the Tunisian economy and Tunisian culture — as an Italian I can understand that — and that it generates a lot of employment. Today it was decided to make an extra effort, and I have shared with the Prime Minister, and with my colleagues, proposals for the EU to make a temporary exceptional — but nevertheless significant — increase in the annual export quota for olive oil from Tunisia.
I am also happy to be able to tell you today — thanks to the involvement of Commissioner Moedas — that with a view to Tunisia joining the Horizon 2020 research programme, it will be offered access on specially favourable terms, because we are well aware of the need to invest in contacts between young people, especially young people who want to invest in relations between the two sides of the Mediterranean.
These are very specific questions, but we also discussed other issues on which we are working together, in particular developments in Libya. This is a priority for us Europeans, and we may talk about it more afterwards during my press conference at the end of the Council meeting. We have had a session with Bernardino León and the ministers of the 28. But we also talked a lot about this with a country like Tunisia, which is a key partner for our stabilisation efforts, for stabilisation efforts in Libya; we are well aware that we share a neighbour, a complicated and difficult neighbour for now, but very important for the stability and security of all of us.
I would like to thank you for your leadership, for the strength you have shown; you have heard from all the ministers today that Europe's support for Tunisia, and for the Tunisian people, is sincere, strong and steadfast, and that you can count on us in these difficult times. Thank you.
Link to video: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I107471