Trip to Tunisia
Tunis, February 22, 2011
FRANCE/TUNISIA/ECONOMIC AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT
MME LAGARDE - (…) First of all we’d like to thank the Prime Minister and all the ministers, who have given us a very warm welcome. We’ve been able to hold some very fruitful, detailed, precise talks during this visit.
Laurent Wauquiez and I came here not only to reiterate France’s friendship and support but also to express our admiration of the Tunisian people for this both pioneering and deeply moral revolution which has engaged them in this transition process.
I also want to emphasize that – at France’s initiative, because we’ve just concluded our presidency of the G20 finance ministers’ meeting in Paris – we’ve sought to involve the international community in a message of support, friendship and at the same time economic and financial mobilization, at the appropriate time, alongside the multilateral bodies and regional development banks, in order to guide and support the Tunisian people in their democratic process.
My aims, as Minister for the Economy and Finance, were obviously to examine how to strengthen the economic partnership between our two countries. I remind you that France is Tunisia’s main partner in the fields of exports, imports, non-energy investments and development aid, where France has been a constant supporter of Tunisia in recent years.
So we discussed a number of specific initiatives with the Prime Minister, with this concern both to maintain and develop the relationship and to acknowledge with great admiration the deep break that’s been made [with the past]. At a fundamental level, France will of course maintain, increase and speed up the deployment of financial instruments to support Tunisia. We’re here to examine the needs expressed, the best way of bringing these financial instruments into play for the benefit of Tunisia’s economic and financial development, to boost employment, fight joblessness and improve professional training in the most useful, effective way for the Tunisian people, with no interference and in compliance with the wishes expressed by the Tunisian authorities.
We also wanted to spur the members of the government into action, and let me tell you my Minister of State responsible for Tourism will be in Tunisia as early as next week to examine how we can galvanize all the big players of French tourism in a campaign to support Tunisia. Tunisia today is the destination for 1.4 million French tourists. The goal is obviously to ensure the 1.4 million French tourists, and others, can be totally confident in returning to Tunisia on holiday.
Let me also tell you that I’ve asked Pierre Lellouche, my Minister of State responsible for Foreign Trade, to support French businesses travelling to Tunisia as early as next month, so as to strengthen trade, maintain investments and clearly set out the terms of the economic confidence expressed by France to Tunisia. (…)
EU ROLE/ADVANCED STATUS
M. WAUQUIEZ – Clearly, for France, this initial trip is of very special importance, and I wanted to give you an idea of our outlook. The Tunisian people have taught the whole world a lesson. The Tunisian people’s mobilization showed the unthinkable was possible. What you did demands respect, and that’s why our approach in coming here is a listening approach. There’s no question of coming here after the battle to teach anyone lessons or explain what would be good or bad for Tunisia.
Our attitude has been to listen to our Tunisian counterparts, see what the provisional government’s demands and expectations are and above all, collectively, move from a time which for us was one of talking to a time of action, and stand alongside you to encourage and invest in this democratic transition according to Tunisia’s needs.
In this context, France is determined to commit herself to Tunisia, so that Europe may be your support. Tunisia must be Europe’s priority. I’ve been arguing to my different European counterparts since Sunday evening that Europe should make this priority choice for Tunisia. France will strive to be your best advocate in Brussels.
This translates straight away into certain very precise points. The first thing is to ensure Tunisia can obtain advanced status. For France, the negotiations should begin immediately and the political signal of Europe’s desire to complete advanced status extremely rapidly is what we’re campaigning for.
For us, advanced status for Tunisia isn’t standard status. It’s not just a tool in the traditional European Union toolbox. It’s a status that must be made to measure, a privileged status that your Prime Minister calls “more than advanced status”. The aim is clearly for it to be possible to conclude before the end of the year, and for us that means the beginning of autumn rather than the end of autumn, with an intermediate phase when Europe can signal its willingness to stand alongside you.
In terms of Europe’s contribution to that framework, our relations can be consolidated in three areas, reflecting the demands expressed by the Tunisians. The first area is political: for example, supporting NGO funding programmes relating to press freedom.
The second area is the economy: advanced status is a huge opportunity to improve Tunisia’s economic integration into the European sphere. This applies to the service sector, where you’re very strong; it also applies to the regulatory sector, to ensure that access to the European market is easier. To take a very concrete example, a Tunisian SME which today produces electical equipment in Tunisia may have difficulty gaining access to the European market because the rules aren’t exactly the same and there may be a number of barriers. Advanced status will allow very great progress on this.
The third area is sectorial cooperation, in the fields of excellence which the Tunisian economy can develop or those which were eagerly awaited in the period you’ve been through. We’re thinking, for example, of biotechnologies, where partnerships can be built, and we’re thinking above all of professional training, where we know young Tunisians have very great, very major expectations, voiced several times by our Tunisian counterparts, who tell us: “We have projects to train our young people but we need support.” From this viewpoint, advanced status will, for example, enable young Tunisians to play an even greater part in exchange programmes like Erasmus.
Finally, a subject which has both a national and a European dimension: tourism. Tourism is vital for the Tunisian economy. France is the main source country of tourists to Tunisia, and there’s a chance to make Tunisia known throughout Europe. Our wish is to finance a European programme to promote Tunisia as a destination, so that we can immediately attract tourists from all over Europe. I’m thinking more particularly of northern Europe, so that it can discover Tunisia as a more significant destination.
EU REGIONAL PROGRAMMES/FINANCIAL MECHANISMS
The second project, after advanced status, is that of regional programmes. There too, France wants us to be concrete, pragmatic. We have things to do together with you: solar farms, an aid network to SMEs, launching a Euro-Mediterranean research centre in Tunis, establishing Mediterranean clean-up programmes. Let’s undertake cooperation projects alongside you that are concrete and move forward.
The last point is the crux of it all: financial resources. What can Europe contribute? We mustn’t only think in terms of the neighbourhood mechanism, which is one of the tools of European policy, but also other strong methods of support that France wants to see brought into play. From this viewpoint, our message is simple: Europe must increase the financial resources devoted to Tunisia, and Tunisia must embody our prioritisation of the southern shore.
In that context, there are two tools: the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development], which doesn’t intervene today because it’s solely focused on the eastern European countries; it would be a very good thing for it to intervene here, and we’re working in this direction. The second is the European Investment Bank, which has considerable investment capacity – €80 million in funding – and whose presence in the region can be stepped up. (…)
Finally, the European Union will try to help act as a fixer to attract all the financial partners to you. Christine Lagarde’s role is absolutely decisive in this respect. What we want is a Marshall Plan for Tunisia. It’s now that you need one. You’ve made a huge journey, you’ve moved mountains, and now you must feel we stand alongside you to invest in democracy. (…)./.