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EU-Tunisia relations date back to 1976 and gained significant momentum when Tunisia and the EU signed an Association Agreement in 1995, paving the way for two decades of mutually beneficial economic and trade relations.
The 2011 Revolution marked a turning point. The EU has used all its instruments to support the Tunisian people, accompany the electoral process, promote human rights, support democratic and socioeconomic reforms, improve security and strengthen civil society. It has also offered Tunisia closer ties across the board, through enhanced economic and trade integration and a Mobility Partnership. As its main partner, the Tunisian authorities made the strategic choice to strengthen the country’s relations and integration with the EU resulting, in 2012, in a ‘Privileged Partnership' and an ambitious ENP Action Plan. This generated intense political contacts, higher levels of financial assistance and significant progress in many areas including trade relations, security sector reforms, education, research and innovation.
From 2011, EU assistance to Tunisia increased substantially. Between 2011-16, EU assistance to Tunisia amounted to EUR 2 billion (EUR 1.2 billion in grants and €800 million in macro-financial assistance). This assistance supported the implementation of the Tunisian democratic and economic transition and contributed to the country’s fiscal stability through macro-financial assistance.
Having succeeded its democratic transition but still confronted to serious socio-economic challenges, on 29th September 2016, the EU adopted a Joint Communication "Strengthening EU support for Tunisia" reaffirming the European Union's commitment to accompany Tunisia in its democratic and economic transition. The Joint Communication sets out a number of measures that the EU will take, collectively with its Member states, to support Tunisia in overcoming the critical challenges it is facing. With these measures, the EU wants to promote long-term stability, good governance, socio-economic development, and security for all Tunisians. To finance these actions, the EU has committed to increase its annual financial assistance in the form of grants to €300 million in 2017 and to maintain a sustained level of financing for the period until 2020.
EU programming framework in favour of Tunisia
For the financial period 2014-2016, a first programming document called the Single Support Framework (SSF) defined our financial assistance priorities under the European Neighborhood Instrument, focusing on the following three priority sectors:
- Socio-economic reforms for inclusive growth, competitiveness and integration
- Strengthening fundamental elements of democracy
- Sustainable regional and local development
Complementary support for capacity development and civil society has also been provided outside these priority sectors.
This SSF 2014-2016 has been replaced by a new programming document, adopted in August 2017, covering the period 2017-2020. This new SSF focuses on pursuing our cooperation in the areas of good governance and socio-economic development, especially in favour of regions lagging behind and youth.
Annual Action Programmes for Tunisia, funded under the European Neighbourhood Instrument on a yearly basis, provide further specification on sectors and operations to be financed.
Other funding sources include thematic programmes, focusing among other things, on human rights and civil society or regional programmes funded by the ENI regional fund.
Tunisia also benefits from funding under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for stability and addressing root causes of irregular migration and displaced persons in Africa. The North Africa window of the Trust Fund is managed by the Directorate General for the Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations.
Finally, Tunisia is eligible for the "more for more" incentive mechanism, the so called "Umbrella" funds, a mechanism which rewards progress made in terms of reforms. In 2014, Tunisia was the first recipient of Umbrella funds with an amount of €50 million, then followed by an allocation of €71.8 million in 2015, €90.5 million in 2016 and €95 million in 2017.
The Annual Action Programme 2016 in favour of Tunisia amounted to €213.5 million (€123 million from the bilateral allocation and €90,5 million from the Umbrella fund). Four ambitious cooperation programmes were adopted covering the following areas: (1) The modernisation of the public administration- €73.5 million; (2) Integrated regional development - €60 million, (3) The reform of the education system, students’ and researchers’ mobility and research and development (Horizon 2020) - €60 million, and (4) Improved access and quality of healthcare services in the most impoverished regions - €20 million.
Prior to this period
For the 2007-2013 period, bilateral assistance committed to Tunisia totalled €775 million, under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI)
The main focus of EU support to Tunisia between 2011-2013 included the core sectors of good governance and democracy, economic reform and recovery as well as support to social sector and the environment.
Support to Civil Society
Since 2011, the EU has been giving ever greater importance to civil society in the Southern Neighbourhood: subsequently assistance to NGOs was increased and regular consultation fora were established to promote a more structured dialogue between the EU and civil society organisations. In Tunisia, support to civil society has become a key feature of EU cooperation to the country.
The EU Delegation is currently responsible for over 70 projects, worth €58.5 million, funded by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), the Non State Actors programme (NSA), the Civil Society Facility and ENPI/ENI instruments. The projects, implemented by local and international NGOs, range from support to women's rights, freedom of expression and promotion of democratic values, the fight against torture, domestic observation of elections, support to the development of an independent civil society and the involvement of citizens' associations in the definition of the country's reform programme to support local development. Calls for proposals are launched regularly on a variety of topics, covering the different programmes and sectors of intervention.
A specific Programme to Support Civil Society (PASC) worth €7 million has recently come to an end. This programme aimed to support the capacity building of civil society organisations so that they can better contribute to the development and the democratic transition of the country. The programme facilitated dialogue and partnerships between civil society organisations and public actors, and made recommendations for legislative reviews related to actions promoted by NGOs as well as their working environment. A follow-up PASC programme is being considered.
The EU co-funded the creation of the Jamaity.org platform in 2014, bringing together more than 1600 Tunisian civil society organisations. The online platform provides information and geo-localisation on projects, resources, events, funding opportunities, documents and tools. This aims to be the only platform for civil society in Tunisia and should provide links to all other relevant initiatives and stakeholders.
Civil society organisations are also called to submit their contributions in the preparation of the EU-Tunisia sub-committees and to contribute to other relevant programming documents and policy papers – maintaining a close dialogue on all issues of common interest.
Tunisia is an active participant to a wide range of regional initiatives covering the Neighbourhood South. Regional programmes are funded under the ENI and focus on different sectors such as the economy and the business environment; education, training and research; culture and media; migration and asylum; justice, freedom and security; environment, climate change and energy. Furthermore, Tunisia participates in cross-border cooperation and in other initiatives open to the Southern Neighbourhood countries: Erasmus+, TAIEX, SIGMA, and the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF). The NIF in Tunisia primarily targets investment projects in transport infrastructure, wastewater management, financing of small business, water and energy efficiency, as well as vocational training and support to trade and competitiveness. From 1st January 2016 Tunisia is the first Arabic country fully associated to the EU research programme Horizon 2020, offering new opportunities to Tunisian scholars and researchers. On 11 May 2017 Tunisia signed the association to the Creative Europe programme. Tunisia's participation is scheduled as of 2018 and will enable Tunisian cultural and audio-visual operators to participate fully in the Culture sub-programme and partially in the MEDIA sub-programme (participation limited to training, film festivals, film education and market access activities).
Other budget lines
In addition to the bilateral and regional ENI funds, Tunisia is eligible and benefits from funding under several thematic instruments and programmes, for instance: the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR - €1.2 million in 2015 and € 1 million in 2016), the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP – €4 million in 2015 and € 2.3 million in 2016 ), or the thematic programmes of the Development Cooperation Instrument such as Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities in development (€0.6 million in 2015 and €0.6 million in 2016 ) and the geographic programmes such as the Migration and Asylum component. In 2014, Tunisia also benefitted from a European Election Observation Mission (€3 million).
Education and Mobility
During the period 2007-2013, Tunisia also benefitted from the Erasmus Mundus programme, with €10 million allocated from the ENPI instrument in 2013, which enhanced mobility and co-operation with the EU in the field of higher education, as well as the Tempus programme which supported the modernisation of higher education.
Both programmes have been integrated in the Erasmus+ programme which has been launched at the beginning of 2014 and for which Tunisia remains eligible.
Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA)
Moreover, the EU has also approved a macro-financial assistance (MFA) operation in favour of Tunisia, for an amount of €300 million (2014) in loans and a second MFA package of €500 million (2016) in loans.
MFA-I: The first tranche of €100 million was disbursed in May 2015 and the second €100 million tranche in December 2015.
MFA-II: This package was approved by EU co-legislators in July 2016 and will be disbursed in three tranches of €200 million, €150 million and €150 million.
For further information please consult the EU-Tunisia Annual Cooperation Report