EU pledges support to Tunisia as country faces economic, security challenges
Brussels - The European Union has pledged more support to Tunisia as the country struggles to cope with the repercussions of terrorist attacks and continued economic slowdown.
Several cooperative measures were agreed upon by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on July 20th during a visit by Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid.
In a statement, the EU ministers expressed solidarity with the North African Tunisia.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said it was in Europe’s own interest to assist Tunisia. “We have to keep hope alive in a region that faces so many difficulties,” she said.
“We support reforms, and we want to form a real partnership so that Tunisia remains a model for the future in the region.”
“There is a strong desire to support Tunisia in its efforts to make the transition to democracy and with its economy, especially tourism,” she pointed out.
Mogherini said both sides were looking at help to Tunisia on border controls to prevent terrorist infiltration of Tunisia’s borders.
Recent terror attacks have made a dent in Tunisian tourism revenues. A June 26th shooting in the resort of Sousse left 38 tourists dead, most of them British. A previous attack, on March 18th, caused the death of 22 people at the Bardo Museum in the capital city, Tunis.
Since the attacks, the number of tourists has dropped after several governments, including Britain, warned their nationals against travelling to Tunisia.
Trade ties will be improved by increasing quotas of this year’s EU imports of Tunisian olive oil from 56,000 to 80,000 tonnes.
Mogherini said the EU would extend support to Tunisia’s tourism sector but gave no details.
The Tunisian premier said he was thankful for EU support but noted that after the euphoria of the 2011 popular uprising, people were now demanding jobs, which the authorities had so far been unable to produce.
The Sousse attack has threatened tourism, which provides employment for 400,000 people plus another million in associated jobs, he said.
The Islamic State (ISIS) jihadist group claimed responsibility for the Sousse attack.
“The EU and Tunisia agree to step up cooperation in the struggle against terrorism. The war will be long but it will be won, thanks to our friends,” Essid said.
German Foreign Minister Frank- Walter Steinmeier said “border controls with Libya will be crucial in order to keep radical elements out”, and Britain and France were ready to offer help on that front.
The Sousse gunman is believed to have been trained in Libya for the attack.
European Commission head Jean- Claude Juncker, who met Essid separately, said he wanted EU citizens to continue visiting Tunisia.
“If these crazy terrorists want to harm the tourist sector, it is because they do not love Tunisia,” he said.
Juncker announced the EU has approved the allocation of €116 million for Tunisia in 2015.
Juncker will be visiting Tunisia next September to start negotiations on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with the North African country. According to the EU, the DCFTA would “lead to a gradual integration of Tunisia’s economy into the EU single market”. Trade relations would extend beyond the scope of the existing association agreement signed in July 1995.
In 2014, total trade between Tunisia and the EU amounted to about €2.1 billion.
The EU’s pledge of support comes at a time when the Tunisian government is soliciting greater assistance from traditional partners with varying results.
In July, the US Senate cut the foreign assistance to Tunisia in the next fiscal year by about $50 million below the $134 million requested by President Barack Obama’s administration and approved by the House of Representatives.