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I am delighted to have met today Mr Jebali, the Prime Minister of Tunisia, on his second visit to Brussels in 2012. The meeting provided an opportunity to reaffirm the privileged nature of relations between Tunisia and the European Union.
Today, in line with what I said at the United Nations General Assembly, and at my meeting with President Markouzi in New York, I stressed that, notwithstanding the difficulties in any political transition, everything must be done to ensure that the achievements of twenty months of democratic transition become irreversible. Tunisia witnessed the beginnings of the Arab Spring at the beginning of 2011, and is determined to sustain its spirit and its achievements.
I restated the European Union's support for all those working to promote the democratisation of Tunisia and the consolidation of core values, regardless of whether they are political leaders, business people, trade unionists or other members of the country's diverse civil society.
Mr Jebali informed me of the progress made in Tunisia's political process, in particular as regards work on the new Constitution and legislative reform, and the preparation of future elections, which will be held following the approval of the new constitutional text.
We reviewed the many areas in which the EU is supporting the country's democratisation and economic recovery, based on four strands:
1. Closer political relations: the European Union remains committed to developing a privileged partnership with Tunisia by means of a new action plan.
2. Enhanced financial cooperation to promote economic recovery and democratic transition: the European Union has almost doubled the volume of financial cooperation with Tunisia for the period from 2011 to 2013, in support of economic recovery, employment, judicial reform, the competitiveness of the services sector and the country's least favoured regions, with EUR 400 million committed in the period from 2011 to 2012.
3. Increased trade, with a view to better integration of Tunisia into the EU market: our ultimate objective remains the establishment of a comprehensive free trade area with Tunisia. In this regard, the European Union offers the prospect of gradual integration of the Tunisian economy into its Single Market.
4. Increased mobility, migration and partnership between peoples. The European Union is prepared to enter into a mobility partnership with Tunisia. This would be the first such partnership agreement concluded with the region, in clear recognition of Tunisia's pioneering role in the Arab Spring.
The assurances given by the Tunisian authorities regarding their determination to make the country's democratic transformation irreversible are key to the further strengthening of our cooperation.
We underlined the importance of a frank and constructive dialogue. The recent events have demonstrated the need to work together at all levels, with a view to easing tensions and promoting increased mutual understanding. Tolerance, respect and dialogue remain the only means of promoting greater understanding between our societies.
Lastly, I stressed to Prime Minister Jebali that it is my intention to engage the European Council regularly on developments in our relations with Tunisia and the other countries of the Arab Spring and I told him that I would like to visit Tunisia and the region in the very near future.