Why adopt this Joint Communication today?
Tunisia is currently going through a critical phase in its transition. As its privileged partner, the European Union’s role is to support Tunisia with reinforced and more tangible actions, in line with the Tunisian five-year Development Plan. This document is the Tunisian response to the present crises to promote growth and development. Once adopted, it will be the reference document for international donors, in particular in view of the Investors' Conference that is to be organised in Tunis at the end of November.
This Joint Communication aims at reaffirming today the European Union's commitment to Tunisia's democratic transition and mobilising European Union's institutions and EU Member States' support, political, operational and financial, to help Tunisia implement the reforms that are not only needed but also wanted by the citizens. It is felt that this is an appropriate moment to reiterate our political commitment: despite many competing demands on the EU's attention and resources, especially in its immediate neighbourhood, Tunisia remains a key priority and it is important to recall this.
What are the tangible and decisive actions the EU proposes through the new Communication?
The Communication is proposing a mix of financial and non-financial measures. Bilateral financial assistance to Tunisia is foreseen to increase to up to €300 million in 2017 and the Commission aims to maintain this reinforced support until 2020. The Commission considers using part of the foreseen additional funding to leverage further support from the European financial institutions, which could mobilise approximately €800 million a year until 2020.
In addition, Tunisia benefits from loans under the EU macro-financial assistance (MFA) instrument. A first MFA programme was approved for an amount of €300 million in 2014 and a second MFA package worth €500 million was approved by the EU earlier this year. The need for additional macro-financial assistance would be assessed based on developing economic conditions and reform progress.
Early implementation could be proposed for the trade concessions agreed in the ongoing Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) negotiations or for the rules of origin building on the ongoing negotiations on a Regional Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin (PEM Convention) in order to assist Tunisia in the short to medium term. The EU is ready to negotiate an ambitious visa facilitation agreement with Tunisia, which could also be beneficial in implementing the DCFTA. Moreover, we are ready to work closely with Tunisia for a fast conclusion of the EU-Tunisia DCFTA negotiations, so as to bring concrete deliverables by 2019.
The Communication should be a starting point and act as a catalyst for a reinforced collective engagement of all the EU institutions and the Member States. Better donor coordination will be ensured along the main lines of the 5-year development plan.
Why does the Communication focus importantly on socio-economic development?
Demands for socio-economic development and reduction of inequality were among the root causes of the Tunisian Revolution (high unemployment, inflation, poor living conditions, social and regional disparities). Despite the undeniable positive changes brought by the transition process, growing economic and social difficulties and disparities continue to negatively affect the lives of ordinary people, and risk jeopardising the entire process. In line with the priorities of the Tunisian 5-year Development Plan the EU will therefore focus on helping Tunisia to implement priority economic and social reforms, in particular to foster macroeconomic stability, create a favourable business and investment climate, reduce social and regional disparities, boost competitiveness, employment and inclusive growth.
Investing in youth (with a particular focus on young women) is an overarching priority of the EU strategy for Tunisia, as presented in the Communication. Reducing disparities, providing opportunities for education and employment enhancing socio-economic resilience for young people can provide alternatives to phenomena such as radicalisation and irregular migration.
What will be the advantages of the conclusion of a DCFTA? How will the DCFTA promote economic development in Tunisia?
The EU is ready to work closely with Tunisia for the fast conclusion of a DCFTA while respecting the needs of Tunisian negotiators to undertake the necessary analysis and stakeholder consultations. The DCFTA will promote integration of the Tunisian economy with the EU. Beyond encouraging trade and investment between the EU and Tunisia, the DCFTA will be instrumental in promoting regulatory reforms and enabling Tunisia to take its place as a player on the international stage. The EU is ready to offer Tunisia asymmetrical liberalisation which will allow Tunisian companies immediate access to the EU market, while Tunisia will be able to open up its market progressively.
Is the EU considering support measures for the negotiation process and for the implementation of the DCFTA?
Tunisia is already benefiting from support measures to accompany the launch of the DCFTA negotiations and prepare for the implementation. Several actions already financed knowledge and information exchange, promoted an upgrade of the legal framework and supported the improvement of the business environment in Tunisia. An additional package of accompanying measures will be foreseen to support the negotiation process, the necessary policy and regulatory reforms and the modernisation of the private sector. The aim is to ensure Tunisia can take full advantage of and is prepared for the future market opening and economic integration.
Furthermore a tripartite dialogue between the authorities, the EU and Civil society has been set up and will, as it is the case for other sectors, accompany and raise awareness on the negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). This tripartite dialogue is a guarantee for greater transparency, awareness and promotes a better involvement of civil society organisations.
Will the EU continue to support good governance, democracy and human rights in Tunisia?
The Tunisian transition towards democracy is a gradual and incremental process, which will require further and ambitious political resolve. The EU is committed to supporting the implementation of the Constitution and to strengthen Tunisian democratic institutions as well as the promotion of human rights. Good governance, and in particular, the reform of the public administration, the creation and efficient functioning of Constitutional bodies, and the fight against corruption are pivotal areas for strengthened EU support. It is important to recall that, since 2011 the EU has provided substantial support to Tunisian civil society and will certainly continue to do so in the coming years.
Support to civil society is a priority of the Communication. Which measures and decisive actions does the Communication propose to fulfil this objective?
Strengthening civil society in Tunisia continues to be one of the EU main priorities. The EU promotes the regular participation of civil society in the dialogue with the authorities in all policy areas, in particular through the reinforcement of the already existing tripartite dialogue (EU, Tunisian authorities, civil society), including on migration and counter terrorism.
In addition, several projects funded by the EU are currently being implemented by Tunisian NGOs. These actions have a total budget of more than €40 million. Activities take place in the different regions of Tunisia and cover different specific issues, such as gender equality, youth participation, job creation, environmental governance etc. The EU will continue to support civil society’s capacity through its financial assistance.
Security is also a priority dossier. Will the balance between security and respect for democracy and human rights be promoted?
A privileged partnership with Tunisia reflects the determination of the EU and the Member States in supporting the country's democratic transition. This transition is complex and fragile. Major terrorist attacks in 2015 targeted more particularly the tourist sector and security institutions, further hampering progress. This highlighted the nexus between security and development. The economy cannot develop itself in a context of permanent insecurity. A reinforced EU-Tunisian cooperation in this field responds therefore to an acute problem, which can only be tackled collectively.
Since 2012, the EU has developed a constructive dialogue with Tunisia on security and counterterrorism. In 2015, dialogue and cooperation with Tunisia in the field of security were significantly strengthened: a high level political dialogue took place in September 2015 and several actions were launched, including an ambitious security sector reform programme (€23 million). EU-Tunisia security dialogue and cooperation can only be implemented in full respect of international human rights and fundamental freedom standards and the democratic principles enshrined in the Tunisian Constitution. Furthermore, the EU calls for the full and transparent involvement of Tunisian civil society in the different steps of this process.
How is cooperation with Tunisia progressing in the field of migration? What are the priorities for cooperation in this field?
Migration is an important aspect of EU-Tunisian relations. The Mobility Partnership (MP) concluded in 2014 is the existing comprehensive framework for cooperation between Tunisia and the EU in the field of migration. Negotiations on visa facilitation and readmission agreements as part of the MP are foreseen to start on 12 October. Tunisia could be the first country in the EU's Southern neighbourhood to benefit from an effective and ambitious visa facilitation agreement. The later could also be beneficial in implementing the DCFTA.
The EU is committed to step up its cooperation with this partner and bring it to a higher level (as indicated in the Commission Communication of 7 June on the external aspects of migration). The Communication recommends to focus EU support on addressing the root causes of migration, notably by promoting Tunisia's socio-economic development, helping Tunisia to develop a national migration and asylum policy, cooperating on return and reintegration, legal migration, prevent irregular migration notably through better border management.
Will the EU promote mobility between EU and Tunisia further?
The negotiation of a visa facilitation agreement aims at easing procedures for issuing short stay (Schengen) visas for Tunisian nationals. It can help reducing the obstacles for mobility between the EU and Tunisia, for example, by reducing the visa fees, speeding up the handling of visa applications, reducing the number of supporting documents for the visa application, defining the categories of persons eligible for multi-entry visas.
In addition, the EU has recently adopted or revised directives (on the blue card, seasonal workers, intra-corporate transferees and students, researchers and trainees) which aim to foster legal migration and mobility. The promotion of mobility of young people (students, researchers, young entrepreneurs) has a special value in our relations with Tunisia in order to promote closer links between our cultures and peoples. Since 2011, Tunisians have benefited from the EU higher education programmes Erasmus Mundus and Tempus and Tunisia has also been given greater access to prominent EU programmes such as the European Enterprise Network. The Communication recommends to reinforce existing mobility schemes (Erasmus +, Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs), using their potential at full. This should be in particular the case for Horizon 2020 (for instance through the Marie Skolodowska Curie Action) with which Tunisia, the first among the Arab countries, has been associated since 1 January 2016.
Will the EU consider the adoption of extraordinary measures?
We are not excluding the possibility to consider exceptional temporary measures, however Tunisia needs to move forward and step up the pace of reforms in order to face its deteriorating socio-economic situation. This is the best way to restore people's confidence in the political system and the democratic transition. The EU is ready to support Tunisia in the implementation of its 5-year plan through its different instruments and initiatives.
How will the efficiency/effectiveness of existing and additional future support be ensured?
The EU is committed to helping Tunisia maintain and accelerate the reform process, essential to achieve sustainable development, stabilisation and resilience. In particular, the EU is ready to support Tunisia in adopting and finalising the legal and policy framework necessary to move ahead with the transition and implement the Constitution.
As indicated in the Communication, the EU could provide additional support, including technical assistance and expertise to Tunisia to put in place mechanisms to promote better inter-ministerial cooperation and a more efficient coordination and use of funds.