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The partnership between Tunisia and the European Union (EU) is rooted in the mutual interest of enhancing a prosperous and stable Tunisian democracy. The relationship formally dates back to 1976 and its legal basis is the Association Agreement signed by the EU and Tunisia in 1995.
The 2011 Revolution marked a turning point in the EU-Tunisia relation. Ever since, the Tunisian people have been working towards a modern democracy based on freedoms, economic development, and social justice. The EU has been Tunisia's key partner in this process: it used all its instruments to support the Tunisian people, accompany the electoral process, promote human rights, support democratic and socioeconomic reforms, enhance economic and trade integration, improve security, and strengthen civil society. Since 2011, EU assistance to Tunisia has amounted to almost €3 billion (over €2 billion in grants and €800 million in macro-financial assistance).
The EU and Tunisia established a Privileged Partnership in 2012, translated into the 2013-2017 Action Plan, a token of the special and dynamic bilateral relations, and of the shared ambition to advance towards increasingly close links between Tunisia and the EU. Both partners also entered into a Mobility Partnership. The EU's commitment to support Tunisia achieve its ambitions was further underlined in 2016 with the Joint Communication "Strengthening EU support for Tunisia" and the launch, by High Representative/Vice-President Mogherini and President Essebsi, of the EU-Tunisia Youth Partnership.
In light of the revised European Neighbourhood Policy and the EU's Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy, the EU-Tunisia Strategic Priorities were endorsed at the EU-Tunisia Association Council in July 2018 and adopted in November 2018 by the Council, as the main guiding lines for the EU-Tunisia Privileged Partnership for the period 2018-2020.
The European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) is the main EU financial instrument for bilateral cooperation with Tunisia. Bilateral aid follows multiannual programming (Single Support Framework) which defines the areas of focus for EU assistance, in line with the Strategic Priorities. The multiannual planning translates into Annual Action Programmes.
From 2011 on, EU assistance to Tunisia increased substantially. Tunisia has also been the Southern Neighbourhood’s main beneficiary of the "more for more" incentive mechanism (so-called "Umbrella" funds) initiated by the revised European Neighbourhood Policy, which rewards progress made in terms of reforms. In 2014, Tunisia was the first recipient of Umbrella funds with an amount of €50 million and has received yearly contributions ever since (€99.8 million in 2018).
For the period 2017-2020, the EU's bilateral assistance to Tunisia under the ENI amounts to €300 million per year, on average, and focuses on the three following priority sectors:
- Promoting good governance and the rule of law;
- Investing in the future: stimulating a sustainable economic growth generating employment;
- Reinforcing social cohesion between generations and regions.
Since 2011, the EU has been giving even greater importance to civil society in the Southern Neighbourhood. In Tunisia, assistance to NGOs was increased and regular consultation fora were established to promote a more structured dialogue between the EU and civil society organisations. Support to civil society has become a key feature of EU cooperation to the country and trilateral consultations (civil society, EU, Government) take place ahead of subcommittee meetings under the EU-Tunisia Association Agreement.
Furthermore, Tunisia participates in cross-border cooperation and in other initiatives open to the Southern Neighbourhood countries: TAIEX (Technical Assistance and Information Exchange instrument), SIGMA (Support for Improvement in Governance and Management) and the Neighbourhood Investment Platform (NIP). The NIP uses EU grants to increase the concessional nature of loans from international financial institutions or absorb political and economic risks. In Tunisia, the NIP primarily targets investment projects in transport, water and wastewater management, financing of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, energy, trade and competitiveness, urban development, as well as education and vocational training.
Tunisia is an active participant in a wide range of regional initiatives covering the Neighbourhood South. Regional programmes funded under the ENI 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.
Support in the field of migration under the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF Africa)
Tunisia also benefits from bilateral and regional funding under the North of Africa window of the EUTF Africa, currently amounting to €69.7 million, which supports efforts in enhancing migration management and border management, addressing the roots causes of irregular migration and sustaining local communities hosting refugees.
Other EU funding
In addition to the above-mentioned bilateral and regional ENI funds, Tunisia is eligible to, and benefits from, several thematic instruments and programmes (including EU programmes), such as:
- European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights
- Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace
- Thematic programmes of the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) such as Civil Society Organisations and Local Authorities in development, as well as geographic programmes of the DCI such as the Migration and Asylum component.
- Under the Erasmus+ programme, Tunisian higher education staff, students, and institutions, benefit from grants, which promote mobility, capacity-building, and the creation of joint master degree or PhD courses. Erasmus+ also supports capacity-building initiatives for youth organisations. Since 2017, the number of exchanges to study, train, or teach abroad between Tunisia and the EU has increased significantly thanks to an additional allocation from the bilateral envelope for the period 2017-2020. In 2015-2019, around 4,100 Tunisian students, professors and university staff moved to Europe while around 1,900 European counterparts travelled to Tunisia.
- Since 1 January 2016, Tunisia has become the first Arab country fully associated to the EU research programme Horizon 2020, which provides new opportunities to Tunisian scholars and researchers.
- On 11 May 2017, Tunisia signed the association to the Creative Europe programme, which enables 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).