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Štefan Füle

European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

Concluding remarks following the first meeting of the EU-Tunisia Task Force

First meeting of the EU-Tunisia Task Force

Tunis, 28 September 2011

Dear Prime Minister, Dear Ministers, Dear Members of the European Parliament, Ambassadors, representatives of EU member States and business leaders, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Thank you for your kind invitation to this important meeting.

I have been very encouraged by the presentation by Tunisia of its economic and social development strategy 2012-2016. It is reassuring that Tunisia has set for itself a vision of reform and modernization. A clear sense of vision and purpose will help your country in the reform process.

The EU is keen to accompany Tunisian in its reform process. We know from experience in other countries that democratic transitions can face many obstacles or even fail to meet people's expectations. We want your transition to succeed.

The EU is ready to offer support to Tunisia based on Tunisia's needs and a shared vision of privileged relations.

Already this year, the Commission has doubled its financial assistance to Tunisia. We have also increased the financial envelope for 2012 and 2013.

Tomorrow, we will sign two important financing agreements totalling 157 million euro. An important part of this sum can be immediately disbursed after the signature and will provide concrete support to the authorities.

But besides immediate assistance, we want to send a signal to the world and to business that we trust Tunisia ability to become a close and important partner of the EU in our neighbourhood, a country that is closely integrated with the EU.

In this context, I welcome the willingness of the Tunisian authorities to re-launch the negotiations on:

a) Liberalization of trade in agricultural, processed agricultural and fishery products, which will boost opportunities for Tunisian farmers;

b) Negotiation of an Agreement on Accreditation and Acceptance of industrial products (ACAA), which will make it easier for Tunisian industrial products to enter the EU market;

c) Negotiation of a Euro-Mediterranean Aviation Agreement (Open skies) which will lower costs for business travellers and tourists alike.

All these agreements will provide tangible benefits for both sides. They will facilitate business opportunities and send a powerful signal to investors that Tunisia is open for business.

I would also like to recall the objective of EU-Tunisia relations aims also at progressively achieving closer integration between EU and Tunisian economies through the upgrading of current trade relations to establish fully fledged Integration agreement (Deep and comprehensive free trade area - DCFTA). The Commission is preparing a mandate of negotiations of the DCFTA and the EU is willing to start concrete work on this as soon as the conditions will allow. This Integration agreement will be of course designed according to Tunisian needs and ambitions, but it is a powerful instrument that will gradually bring Tunisia in the EU internal market.

In the medium and long term, Tunisia's success will depend on its capacity to increase investment and develop a model of inclusive growth which creates more employment. Short term official assistance can be of importance but private sector investment is what really will make a difference, especially in this period of budgetary austerity.

In this context, we have high hopes for the negotiations of the new EU Tunisia action plan, which will form the basis of the privileged partnership with Tunisia. We should aim to define an ambitious action plan that helps us tackle some of the challenges for long term growth, such as private sector development, employment, research and technology, infrastructures and interconnections with Europe, etc….

Let me also add that this action plan will have to tackle important political issues, like respect of fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, the independence of the Judiciary that are crucial in their own rights and also for the development of business.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that we have high ambitions for our partnership. We have a clear vision for our people and societies to get closer together in a partnership of equals. We hope that this vision of politicians will be shared and sustained by the private sector.

Thank you for your attention.

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