Tunis — In an exclusive interview with TAP news agency on the occasion of his state visit in Tunis July 4-5 , French President François Hollande reaffirmed his country's total solidarity with Tunisia in this crucial stage of its history, outpointing that France is following up the transition process in Tunisia with great care "without interference but without indifference".
He also expressed France's wish to develop its co-operation with Tunisia in the fight against terrorism which, he said, does not represent a danger for the concerned countries only or neighbouring countries but a threat for all Africa and Europe.
After reviewing prospects for the development of bilateral co-operation, Hollande reckoned it is necessary to speed up negotiations on the free-trade agreement with the European Union which will allow, he said "a better anchoring of Tunisia to Europe, a guarantee of attractiveness for foreign investments".
Here is the full text of the interview:
Question 1: Some people reckon that Tunisian-French relations have recorded slack periods after Tunisia's revolution. What do you say about that and how do you view the future of these relations?
Answer: Since I have been elected, I have received, on four occasions, President Marzouki and conferred at the Elysée palace with National Constituent Assembly Speaker Mustapha Ben Jafaar. The big change since the revolution of 2011 is that France and Tunisia share the same democratic values.
France fully supports Tunisia in this crucial stage of its history. The French people believe that the Tunisian revolution has brought our two countries and peoples even closer. We share common language, culture and human relations.
I also think of the 650.000 Tunisian nationals living in France including 15.000 students and the 30.000 French nationals living in Tunisia who contribute to the economic development and the country's attractiveness.
Question 2: More than two years after the ousting of Ben Ali and the win of the Islamist Ennahdha party at the elections of October 2011, how do you view the transition process in Tunisia?
Answer: We are following up with great care the transition process, without interference but without indifference. For France, the success of the democratic regime will go beyond Tunisia since it might be a reference for the region, for the Mediterranean and for Africa. But time is necessary to build up these new balances.
I hail the progress of the state of rule and liberties in Tunisia. Tunisia can set the example and convey a fantastic message, notably to Arab states, through turning this moratorium in definitive abolition.
I also know, despite this progress, what are yet the expectations of the Tunisian people in matters of employment, justice and social equity. There are signs of impatience and inequalities to reduce.
I know that Tunisia's political officials are willing to meet these expectations and achieve what they promised to Tunisians.
Question 3: Tunisia is facing these last days challenges in matters of security, and even military ones, notably as regards fight against terrorism. Is France considering specific co-operation with Tunisia in this field?
Answer: No country can face on its own the terrorist risk which is a major concern for all democracies, not only in the Maghreb. I think for instance about what is going on in West Africa and in the Sahel.
The terrorist groups do not represent a danger for the concerned countries or neighbouring countries only but a threat for all Africa and Europe.
This is why France has assumed last January its responsibilities in Mali on behalf of the international community. We must get united to face this threat in the field of intelligence, training and equipment.
France wishes to boost its co-operation with Tunisia in the fight against terrorism. The situation in Libya also requires good regional co-ordination to which France is ready to contribute.
Question 4: France has some 1300 off-shore firms in Tunisia, but the average investment for each one, according to the Tunisian-French Chamber of Commerce and Industry, stands at only 50.000 euros. What can the French government and business circles in France do to make up for these poor investments ?
Answer: France is the first trading partner of Tunisia, its first supplier and first customer. It is also its first investor.
The 1300 French firms based in Tunisia employ some 125 000 people. We can further develop our economic co-operation in numerous sectors: renewable energy, transport, farming and food industry.
We can help restore tourist trade. French tourists who came to Tunisia in 2012 numbered one million. They must be incited to return even more numerous .
I wish to see Tunisia a priority country for the French strategy of industrial co-localisation. Each investment is useful for our two countries, jobs and economies.
I incite Tunisian officials to provide the necessary conditions of attractiveness for this objective, especially through a new investment code or laws on public-private partnership. For instance, I would suggest a plan of strategic alliance on digital economy which could extend over the Arabic-speaking and French-speaking markets.
Finally, in matters of trade, we should speed up negotiations on the free-trade agreement with the European Union which will allow a better anchoring of Tunisia to Europe, guarantee of attractiveness for foreign investments.