Delegation of the European Union to Tunisia

Tunisia and the EU

29/01/2021 - 18:03
EU relations with Country

Closer relations with the European Union (EU) remain an ever-present component and key choice in Tunisia’s foreign policy. This cooperation has developed under an Association Agreement (signed in 1995), further strengthened in 2012 with a Privileged Partnership.

In view of the historic challenges that Tunisia has had to face in the wake of the January 2011 revolution, the EU has set out a new approach aimed at providing the most relevant responses to the rapid change taking place in the country and to its need for reforms to establish and consolidate sustainable democracy.

This new approach is based on mutual responsibility and a joint commitment to democracy, a constitutional state and universal human rights values. It introduces support based on Tunisia’s ambitions in terms of building closer relations with the EU, its specific needs and its capacities.

Furthermore, the November 2015 Communication on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) provides a clear political framework for efforts to stabilise the region through greater differentiation between partners, better targeting of shared goals, greater flexibility in responding to crisis situations and an increased sense of ownership on the part of both partners. 

This approach will see the strengthened relations translated into closer political cooperation in the areas of governance, security and conflict-resolution. This includes:

  • boosting high-level political dialogue;
  • cooperation on security issues;
  • parliamentary cooperation;
  • cooperation in terms of democracy and a constitutional state, as well as gender equality, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Furthermore, the Mobility Partnership (MP) introduced in 2014 provides the general framework for EU-Tunisia political dialogue on migration.

EU support for Tunisia in helping implement its reforms remains resolute, in an effort to bolster its economic resilience and ensure that its democratic transition is successful. Against this background, the Joint Communication of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini and the Commission on giving greater support to Tunisia, published on 29 September 2016, translates the EU’s bolstered commitments to Tunisia into action. 

The EU and Tunisia have close, longstanding trade relations. They date back to 1969 when the first EEC-Tunisia trade agreement was signed. The EU-Tunisia Association Agreement between Tunisia and the EU was signed in 1995, while 2008 saw the entry into force of a Free Trade Area for industrial products with the application of duty limited to zero on trade in these products. Tunisia was therefore the first partner from the Mediterranean’s southern shores to sign up to and implement a Free Trade Area with the EU.

The Privileged Partnership between the EU and Tunisia was approved following the revolution, on 19 November 2012. Its objective is to further enhance relations between the two parties, including through stronger economic integration with the signing of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).

This new Agreement is expected to go beyond free trade, supporting closer and deeper economic integration of Tunisia’s economy in the European single market. It indeed enhances and deepens the Free Trade Area for manufactured products and extends it to new sectors such as services and agriculture, in a progressive and asymmetric manner in favour of Tunisia, all the while stipulating the need for harmonisation of regulations in priority sectors to be chosen through mutual agreement between both parties.

The official launch of negotiations for a DCFTA took place in October 2015 and involved Ms Cecilia Malmström, European Commissioner for Trade, Mr Habib Essid, Prime Minister of Tunisia and Mr Ridha Lahouel, Minister of Trade at the time. The first round of negotiations took place from 18 to 21 April 2016 in Tunis and focused on an in-depth examination of proposed negotiation texts.

Under the ENP, the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) makes the solidarity and financial cooperation of the EU regarding its neighbours a reality. This financial instrument guarantees the essential components of the funding of aid. It is support earmarked for assisting with political, economic and social reforms.

The Action Plan serves as a basis for preparing a cooperation programme covering the 2014-2020 period, in line with the EU’s general financial framework. Given Tunisia’s specific context, the Tunisian and European authorities have agreed that the cooperation between them will take place in two stages, the first covering the 2014-2016 period, the second the 2017-2020 period.

The 2014-2016 single support framework sets out the three areas of intervention in which the cooperation is concentrated:

  • support for socio-economic reforms;
  • support for more balanced and sustainable development throughout all regions;
  • strengthening of the constitutional state and governance.

Support for civil society is provided for in these three areas of intervention to ensure that civil society is involved in formulating and implementing public policies.

With €250.75 million granted by the EU in 2016 and €1.2 billion between 2017 and 2020, the EU is boosting its financial assistance for Tunisia in order to help it in consolidating its democratic transition and reviving its economy.

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