EU-Tunisia Association Council
Human rights and civil society: essential to bilateral relations between Tunisia and the EU
Brussels, 18 April 2016 – On 18 April 2016, the twelfth session of the EU-Tunisia Association Council held in Luxembourg will examine the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) and the implementation of the Mobility Partnership (MP). EuroMed Rights believes that these discussions must also be used as an opportunity to define human rights as being a priority goal for strengthening relations between the EU and Tunisia. It is therefore necessary to add them to the agenda of the joint ministerial meeting.
Tunisia is facing significant challenges as regards human rights, and in particular as regards economic, social and cultural rights and the rights of migrants and refugees. These challenges must be addressed at the negotiating table in order to arrive at joint responses, in particular in view of the privileged partnership between the EU and Tunisia. This cooperation will ensure improved respect for and broader protection of human rights for both partners, in accordance with international standards.
Moreover, it is crucial that civil society be fully involved in the bilateral negotiations between the EU and Tunisia. Since 2011, Tunisian civil society has shown itself to be a key player in the country’s democratic process. The award of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to the quartet of organisations leading the national dialogue in Tunisia is quite revealing in this regard. Although our network welcomes the establishment and the regular holding of tripartite discussions (between the Tunisian authorities, the EU and civil society), they must be considerably strengthened in order to ensure more effective participation for civil society. We therefore call on the European and Tunisian authorities for more transparency in the negotiations of the various agreements between Tunisia and the EU, in particular regarding the DCFTA and the MP. Civil society must be able to access the relevant information in time to enable it fully play its role as a source of proposals. We also believe that it is essential to develop an institutional framework and mechanisms enabling civil society to express itself and be involved in the various phases of the negotiations, and in the implementation and evaluation of the bilateral cooperation.
The Association Council is also the first opportunity to discuss a specific agreement between the EU and Tunisia in the framework of the new European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) published last November. The new ENP provides for the negotiation of specific agreements with each country in the neighbourhood on the basis of common interests, but seriously marginalizes respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. It is therefore crucial that this agreement includes human rights in the priority objectives of the EU-Tunisia cooperation and that it actually involves civil society in all stages of the bilateral relations between Tunisia and the EU.