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Catherine Ashton

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice president of the European Commission

Remarks by the High Representative/ Vice President Catherine Ashton at the end of her visit to Tunisia, 14 February 2011

European Commission

Brussels, 14 February 2011

The EU is wholeheartedly behind the Tunisian people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy.

All Tunisian political actors and civil society must continue to work together towards free democratic elections later this year.

This morning I had very constructive meetings with Prime Minister Ghannouchi and several members of the transitional government.

I also met representatives of civil society, including human rights activists, womens' groups and youth representatives at the headquarters of the Tunisian Human Rights League.

Deep democracy can only take root and flourish with the involvement of a wide cross section of NGOs.

There is much that the European Union can do to support them. We want to be Tunisia's strongest ally in their move towards democracy.

We will work to recast our assistance, and that's €258 million between now and 2013. We are also today immediately adding new resources of €17 million.

I have also opened discussions with the European Investment Bank to mobilize – focusing on the first instance on Tunisia – up to €1 billion of finance this year. This could be used to help small and medium-sized businesses and to boost transport infrastructure.

We want to both help deliver and underpin political openness, help with the democratic transition, and also support economic and social development.

And to do that, support to civil society will play an important role, as well as help for the electoral process and targeted action to help those in the most disadvantaged regions of Tunisia.

We will work with the transitional government to support an international conference in support of investment in Tunisia.

I should be very clear with you that our commitment is both short-term and long-term.

And we are ready to begin to look at moving forward with advanced status. These talks will begin, and will be concluded by the new government.

Finally, as you would expect, we have started to review all our policies to make sure that we can increase our support to Tunisia.

But let me be absolutely clear: the future of this country lies firmly in the hands of the Tunisian people.

Our job – my job – is to be ready to help in any way that we can. And my reason for being here today is to offer that support. And it's a great privilege to be here, thank you.

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