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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Statement on the situation in Tunisia
European Parliament, AFET Committee
Brussels, 26 January 2011
Mr President, Honourable Members,
Tunisia is experiencing a turning point unique in its history: the march towards a genuine democracy. Within a matter of days, former President Ben Ali has fled the country, his once dominant party - the RCD - is dissolving with the dismantling of its political committee and a transitional government has been appointed which includes members of the former opposition. An amnesty for all political prisoners has been announced, freedom for the media guaranteed, the ban of activities of human rights groups lifted, and all political parties legalised. The transitional government has also appointed a commission with the mandate to make proposals on the political changes to be undertaken, and two investigative commissions, one on corruption, and another on the violence during the demonstrations have been set up.
These are extraordinary developments and we welcome them wholeheartedly. They offer a beacon of hope for the people of Tunisia who have for too long lived without the possibility to realise their legitimate aspirations.
But Tunisia is only at the beginning of its transformation. Internally, the new transition government still needs to gain wider public acceptance. Tunisian authorities should do their utmost to build public trust and create the conditions for stability in this transitional period. Tunisia needs to re-start its economy as soon as possible and to create stable conditions in which the planned elections can be prepared quickly and in an orderly fashion.
But let me be clear: at this crucial time, the EU fully stands behind the Tunisian people. The High Representative and myself have already issued several statements expressing our support and our willingness to help. We have a senior official of the EEAS in Tunis at this very moment who will be meeting with the three commissions and with most relevant actors, including civil society and members of the opposition. The next step on our side will be a visit at political level which we are considering as soon as the conditions are right. The Foreign Affairs Council will discuss Tunisia next Monday. And this House has also expressed its support in the debate that took place during the last plenary session which I attended.
I also understand that an EP delegation will be travelling to Tunisia very shortly, and I welcome it. The EP and its Committees, as well as political parties at the European and national level, have a significant role to play in contributing to the institutional reinforcement of their Tunisian counterparts in the new environment.
Mr President, Honourable Members,
The initial measures undertaken by the transition government of Tunisia are steps in the right direction and we call on the authorities to fully implement new commitments on governance, respect of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms, as well as economic and social reforms. The EU is ready to support the transition process, including the organisation of free, transparent and democratic elections as soon as the right conditions are met. We are willing to provide our political, legal, technical and material support that Tunisia would identify in order to prepare and organise the elections.
We are also considering other measures the EU could take to support the transition. These include: the possible freezing of assets and travel ban on persons identified in coordination with the Tunisian authorities; adapting our financial co-operation to meet the new needs of the country; and reinforcing our support to Tunisian civil society.
I would like to insist on this particular point. It is the experience learnt from any transition, including in the part of Europe where I come from, that civil society needs careful nurturing and support to adapt to the new situation. The EU supported civil society in Tunisia as much as it could under the former regime, including through instruments like the European Initiative for Human Rights and Democracy and our programmes for non-state actors. There is now space to do much more, through our programmes as well as through partnerships between political parties, foundations and others. I see this as one of the best ways to invest in Tunisia’s future and help its democracy stabilise and mature as fast as possible.
Regarding the advanced status, the EU is ready when the time is right to resume the negotiations on a new basis, in a dialogue with a democratically elected government and on an action plan adapted to the new situation. I have always been very clear on our view that enhanced status means enhanced commitments in all areas, including democracy and human rights.
The EU will also put all efforts in supporting Tunisia in the challenges that lie further ahead, in particular in addressing the social and economic problems which are at the root of the disaffection with the former regime. Unemployment, and in particular unemployment affecting the young and young graduates, poverty, the lack of development in many areas of the country, call for an urgent response by the Tunisian authorities. In this context, it is necessary to open up the economy, to facilitate private investment, to tackle corruption and rent-seeking, and to put in place mechanisms aimed at boosting growth. These are necessary and urgent reforms. In the past, the EU has helped with its support in these areas and we are ready to look afresh, in cooperation with a democratically elected government, at how we can best make a difference.
Tunisia is an important partner for the European Union. We have a strong interest in a stable, prosperous and democratic Tunisia, with which we can develop mutually beneficial cooperation based on shared interests and values. The relationship between our societies and our economies is solid: we can not only preserve the positive achievements of the past but also build new ones in the near future.
I am committed to ensuring that we do our utmost to support the emerging democratic Tunisia that can become a model and a source of hope, for people in the Maghreb, the Arab world and beyond.