Tunis, 29 November 2016
Check against delivery
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very glad to be here today to represent the European Commission at this landmark event and to present the European Union's view on how the tremendous potential that Tunisia possesses can be best managed for the benefit of its people.
The main message that I convey from Brussels is that we believe in Tunisia and we are determined to help Tunisia to succeed in its political and economic transition.
The European Union stood by Tunisia as it faced the political, social and economic turbulence that inevitably followed the Revolution. We consolidated this commitment very early on, by upgrading our relations to a "Privileged Partnership" only a few weeks after the Revolution.
Tunisian citizens have placed high hopes in the democratic transition, hoping not only for the precious freedoms they have now acquired, but also for a more prosperous future. Tens of thousands of well-educated Tunisians are looking opportunities to put their talents at the service of their country and they deserve our support to ensure that these opportunities exist.
For this to happen, Tunisia needs to take courageous decisions to put in place the basic characteristics to attract local entrepreneurs and international investors, including:
- solid economic governance;
- strong market institutions; and
- a favourable business environment for domestic and private investors.
The measures required range from improving customs, logistics and port services, to modernising fiscal policy and tax administration. More generally, it is absolutely necessary to reduce red tape wherever possible, lessening the administrative burden, especially on small and medium-sized enterprises.
I would therefore like to commend the Government and Parliament for the business friendly measures that have recently been put in place, including laws on Investments and on a framework for Public Private Partnerships.
The pace must however continue. European and Tunisian companies alike are now looking for further structural reforms outlined in the Government's five-year development plan, particularly in public administration, justice and decentralisation.
I mentioned education: Tunisia has an excellent track record in producing graduates in a wide variety of disciplines, but the picture is less encouraging when it comes to providing them with employment opportunities.
It is my firm view that the educational system must shift its focus increasingly towards vocational training: this is what the market is calling out for and where the real potential lies. I appreciate that this requires changes in approach which are not simple to achieve, but the European Union is prepared to help by providing expertise and best-practice to help encourage a shift in this direction.
In our recent Communication on strengthening support for Tunisia, the European Union announced a significant increase in support for Tunisia. We are committed to a grant of up to three hundred million Euros for 2017, with the pledge to seek to maintain that level until 2020. We are also committed to working even more intensively with the European and International Financial Institutions.
The newly-launched European External Investment Plan will pool resources from the European Union and the European Financial Institutions, with up to 44 billion Euros for the Neighbourhood and Sub-Saharan Africa. The Plan will also establish a guarantee facility to mitigate risks and leverage investments in sectors with the highest socio-economic potential. Tunisia will certainly be given priority, but of course the underlying conditions must be met, including the creation of a business environment that is conducive and encouraging to investment. We will work with the Tunisian authorities to ensure that this can be achieved.
Today, more than three thousand (3000) European companies operate in Tunisia, which is over eighty percent of foreign companies in the country. Altogether, they employ more than three hundred thousand (300,000) people. I am convinced that there is potential to expand this intense economic relationship further, to boost competitiveness of Tunisian products and attract foreign investment. That is why we have offered to upgrade our trade relations to a new, more comprehensive and modern agreement.
We started to negotiate this agreement in October 2015, aiming to allow Tunisia to benefit from market access to 500 million consumers. Moreover it will also help establish a transparent and stable legal environment for investments, thus offering one of the best possible incentives to invest in Tunisia.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to restate the European Union's unwavering support for Tunisia in its efforts to reform its economy after having successfully established a modern democracy. I pledge that the European Union will help to ensure that this Conference is not a one-off event, but the start of a sustained process. I call on all of you here today to ensure that we follow-up on our promises and deliver our pledges. Tunisia deserves no less.
Thank you for your attention.