Europe’s responsibility in Tunisia’s quandaries

Sunday 05/11/2017
Tunisian Foreign Affairs minister Khemaies Jhinaoui arrives for a signature of an agreement between European Union and Tunisia at the EU Council building in Brussels, last May. (AFP)

Being the birthplace of the “Arab spring” and cham­pion of consensus-based politics, Tunisia was supposed to be the hap­piest place on Earth after avoiding civil strife and completing its democratic transition.

However, the nascent democracy in Tunisia is going through another cycle of angry protests against a desperate reality. There are no signs of relief or change in development policies and employment opportu­nities. Even the golden beaches of the Tunisian coastline, where tour­ists flock to relax, can hardly hide the hordes of young people wanting to flee the country at all costs.

Such scenes have become familiar along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Basin. They have reached dramatic proportions to merit the label of a real boat revolt with all that it entails in risks and tragedy.

The European Union is in good part to blame for this. The uncoor­dinated policies of EU members in dealing with the nascent democracy in Tunisia have been focused mainly on protecting Europe from migra­tory influxes. Questions are being raised about the intentions of Tuni­sia’s international partners. Under the pretext of active cooperation with Tunisia, an increasing number of European warships are arriving at the country’s shores.

With Europe adopting a security approach to the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean, it is clear we are back at square one. The panoply of European policies and meas­ures during the past seven years to strengthen conditions and factors likely to encourage young people to remain in their home countries has obviously failed.

European policies fixing legal im­migration are not going to help ease the humanitarian crisis looming on the southern shores of the Medi­terranean, either. In Tunisia and Algeria, social crises are worsening and the horizons for job seekers are disappearing. In these conditions, one cannot logically expect profes­sional smugglers to watch from the sidelines. They are going to excel in finding innovative ways of smug­gling people into Europe under the noses of coast guards.

For seven years, the European Union has been promoting the im­age of a successful “Arab spring” in Tunisia. By so doing, it has implicated itself in a premeditated disinformation campaign. Many European civil society organisations and institutions have found Tunisia to be fertile ground for financial misbehaviour and false cooperation quite removed from the real needs of Tunisians.

If we put aside cooperation programmes in the defence and security sectors and if we overlook some of the overblown projects such as those involving vocational training, it would be worthwhile to undertake an inventory of concrete contributions by the European Union since 2011 in Tunisia. What has it done towards rehabilitating the country’s ageing infrastructure in health and education sectors? Towards providing new investment opportunities to increase individual income? Or towards directly funding small economic projects set up by young people?

Despite international praise, there are no concrete results ensuing from cooperation with the European Union, particularly as it pertains to youth. To make things worse, the European Union has reneged on financial agreements with Tuni­sia and tightened the screws on organised immigration and people’s freedom of movement.

Such measures contribute to a dif­ficult social reality in Tunisia even though the country continues to comply with its commitment to the European Union to combat illegal sea crossings from Tunisian shores. Tunisian authorities find themselves imposing what appears to be some form of house arrest on the young people of an embattled country.

Fortunately, there are persistent Tunisian voices calling for an over­haul of the country’s cooperation with the European Union. These voices want to reverse the trend of its one-sided policies and replace them with win-win policies.

It is vitally important for the coun­tries on the northern shores of the Mediterranean to upgrade relations with Tunisia to avoid another fiasco such as the one in Libya.