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Brussels, 27 September 2011

EU-Tunisia relations state of play and next steps

1. Background: a long standing relationship

EU-Tunisia relations go back to 1969, when a first cooperation agreement, essentially commercial, was signed between Tunisia and the then European Economic Community. Under the Global Mediterranean Policy, new bilateral agreements were concluded in 1976 with all three Maghreb countries, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. The new agreement included for the first time economic and financial aid, in the form of bilateral financial protocols. Following the launching of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, established in Barcelona in November 1995, Tunisia was the first country to sign an Association Agreement with Europe. The Association Agreement still constitutes the legal basis for EU-Tunisia relations. It includes a political and security partnership, a financial and economic partnership and a social, cultural and human partnership. Under the Association Agreement, a free trade zone for industrial products was put in place on the 1st January, 2008. It also established permanent working structures for political and sectoral dialogue. Since 2004, relations with Tunisia have been developed in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy, on the basis of an EU-Tunisia Action Plan, adopted in 2005 for 5 years.

2. EU support to the Tunisian revolution

The European Union acted swiftly to support Tunisia in the wake of the revolution. EU political support for the Tunisian transition was demonstrated by a series of high-level visits, the first only a few weeks after the revolution, on 14 February 2011, by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Catherine Ashton, followed by European Commission President Barroso, Commissioners Füle, Malmström and De Gucht, as well as European Parliament President Buzek.

All EU financial instruments have been rapidly mobilised to respond to the new challenges. The EU has provided immediate support for the preparation of the elections, through the provision of technical assistance to the transitional authorities as well as through direct support to civil society organisations.

Considerable humanitarian support has also been made available, in particular to help Tunisia to cope with the influx of refugees fleeing war in Libya.

Following the revolution, the EU increased the funds available for bilateral cooperation: For the period 2011 - 2013 indicative figures were raised from €240 million to €400 million (an increase of €160 million or over 60%).

Overall, for 2011 alone, the EU has doubled financial grants to approximately €160 million. These funds target in particular economic recovery, civil society and democratic transition.

  • Support for economic growth: Support for the Tunisian government's emergency programme to revive the economy. Total donor support amounts to €1 billion, including an EU grant of €100 million.

  • Support for the services sector: Support worth €20 million to strengthen competitivness in health, ITC, transport and logistics and professional services.

  • Support for less developed areas: Support worth €20 million aimed at facilitating democratic transition by reducing social inequalities and regional discrepancies; micro-finance institutions will also be supported.

  • Actions to support civil society and the preparation and observation of elections, worth €9.7 million.

The EU has been quick to recognise the challenges of the political and economic transition faced by Tunisia and the region as a whole. It has also recognised the need to adopt a new approach to relations with its southern neighbours to help to push forward reforms1.

3. Next steps

EU commitment towards the Tunisian transition will be strengthened in the months to come. A Task Force, to be chaired jointly by High Representative Ashton and Tunisian Prime Minister Béji Caĭd Essebsi has been set up in order to ensure better coordination of European and international support for Tunisia’s transition.

Some of the key priorities will include:

  • The re-launch of negotiations aiming to establish a privileged partnership between the EU and Tunisia through the adoption of an 'Advanced Status';

  • Support to the Tunisian authorities on the issue of asset recovery;

  • Support to civil society through reinforced dialogue and increased funding;

  • Increased funding will be granted for Erasmus Mundus and TEMPUS with a view to strengthening the modernisation, internationalisation, relevance and quality of higher education and mobility opportunities for students and academic staff;

  • Re-launch of negotiations on agricultural liberalisation;

  • Launch of negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement in the near future, on the basis of a mandate to be granted by the Council;

  • Launch of a Dialogue on migration, mobility and security with the EU. Tunisia will be the first country in the southern Mediterranean to benefit from such an initiative.

As for cooperation activities for 2012, a programming mission will be mobilised just after the Task Force to review on-going cooperation and to set goals and parameters for two programmes planned for financing in 2012. These focus on employment (approx. €60 million) and justice (approx. €20 million). It will also assess how best to apply additional funds to be made available to Tunisia from the SPRING programme.

1 :

A Joint Communication of 8 March 2011 from the Commission and the High Representative entitled “A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean” was followed on 25 May by “A new response to a changing Neighbourhood”. Both these communications provided for a “more-for-more” approach to co-operation – in other words support for partner countries would be proportional to their commitment to, and progress in, reform.

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