28 April 2014

Tunisia: EU to Help Tunisia

Tunis — The foreign ministers of France and Germany ended an historic joint visit to Tunisia on Friday (April 25th) with pledges of financial aid.

Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said the visit by Laurent Fabius and Frank-Walter Steinmeier reflected the "strong support for Tunisia and its transitional course and also the interest of these two friendly countries and the European Union in supporting Tunisia at this stage".

"What we try to do is strengthen these relations, trying to push them further," he told AFP.

The EU is Tunisia's top economic partner, with commercial exchanges exceeding 80%. France and Germany take the lion share of those.

Both ministers congratulated Tunisia on its exit from its political crisis by choosing a non-partisan government of technocrats during negotiations that included the labour and employers' unions and the most important political parties in the country.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Friday announced during an interview that his country would convert Tunisia's debt, about 60 million euros, into investment projects.

"The 500 million euros pledged by French President Francois Hollande will be awarded shortly to Tunisia after a decision was made to speed up its transfer," Fabius added Friday.

Fabius on Thursday met with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki. Following their talks, the French diplomat said, "This is the first time that the foreign ministers of France and Germany are paying a joint foreign visit. We chose Tunisia as our first destination to express our feelings of confidence toward its mobilisation efforts."

"Tunisia was committed to the path of a transitional model and safely made the democratic transition, including the ratification of the constitution," he said.

Economic expert Moez Ejjoudi commented on the visit of the two ministers to Magharebia saying, "They represent the European Union, not just France and Germany, as if in preparation for Mehdi Jomaa's visit next week to France."

Jomaa recently visited the Gulf, as well as the United States, seeking economic and security support for the country.

According to official figures, his country's budget is 5 billion Tunisian dinars (2.23 billion euros) short as a result of the subsidy system, public services and wages.

For his part, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday that Prime Minister Jomaa would visit Germany in June at the invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

On Wednesday, a statement by Steinmeier was posted on the German embassy's website stating that Tunisia was "to-date the only country in the region that has managed to take important steps towards democracy and a strong civil society".

"I hope that these visits will be crowned with success," Mourad Mohali, a 35-year-old civil servant, told Magharebia. "We really need help."

Meanwhile, Sami Lazraq, a 55-year-old taxi driver, disagreed. "We must rely on ourselves," he said.

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