EU offers financial support, trade openings and improved mobility, in support of Tunisia's 'Jasmin Plan'.
Tunisia received pledges of continued EU support and ‘privileged partnership’, at the first meeting of the joint EU-Tunisia taskforce in Tunis on 28 and 29 September.
Nine months since the fall of President Ben Ali precipitated the Arab Spring, and less than a month before Tunisians go to the polls in the first democratic elections in the region since the revolution, the Tunisian Government unveiled its economic and social development strategy for 2012-2016. The EU pledged initial support worth over €150 million, committing itself to working closely with the Tunisian authorities and with other international organisations in targetting its support for the plan.
The EU confirmed that it will provide a €100 million grant in support of a €1 billion multi-donor support programme, as well as a €57 million EU grant to reform the water sector. It also promised to support the return to Tunisia of the illicitly acquired assets of the previous regime. The EU has doubled its initial 2011 forecasts of assistance to Tunisia, and has also encouraged the European Investment Bank and (for the first time) the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to bring investment finance into the country.
'A new Tunisia is emerging: open, dynamic, prosperous, and democratic. It is an example for the entire region' said EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, who led an EU Delegation comprising representatives from the European Commission, Parliament and Member States. Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi led the Tunisian Delegation. Other international organisations and business-people were also present, and met Tunisian business and civil society organisations.
Discussions also focussed on liberalising trade to allow Tunisian agricultural and fisheries products into the EU, as well as industrial products such as mechanical and electrical goods, and construction materials.
'We stress, too, the importance of developing the links between our peoples', said Cathy Ashton. The Taskforce launched moves towards concluding the EU’s first ‘Mobility Partnership’ in North Africa, aimed at facilitating visas for Tunisian students, researchers and businesspeople wishing to travel to the EU. New EU funds were also announced to support EU university scholarships for the region (€30 million), and the work of civil society organisations (€22 million).
The EU has already given technical support to the Tunisian national election commission, and an independent EU team will observe the upcoming elections.