EU-Tunisia relations: where is civil society?

Open Letter, Tunisia

Read in:  French 

Open letter to the European Union.

Ms Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Mr Charles Michel, President of the European Council

Mr David Sassoli, President of the European Parliament

The new EU Agenda for the Mediterranean, published on 9 February, mentions that “civil society organisations and social partners’ organisations remain key interlocutors in shaping and monitoring EU cooperation,” while the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 stresses that “civil society remains a key partner for delivering sustainable change and to monitor and review progress”. The EU-Tunisia Strategic Priorities, defined in 2018, state that both parties will continue to attach particular importance to strengthening “the role and participation of civil society” and its “contribution to the decision-making process”.

EuroMed Rights was therefore astonished to discover that civil society was not even mentioned in the joint communiqué issued following your meeting in Brussels in early June with the President of the Republic of Tunisia, Mr Kaïd Saïed, in the context of the second Tunisia-EU Summit, in contrast to the press release issued after the first Summit in December 2016 with the late President Essebsi. The June 2021 communiqué focuses on themes such as youth, education, culture and economic relations, omitting the key role played by civil society in Tunisia’s democratic transition, as demonstrated by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the National Quartet in 2015. In a recent open letter to President Saïed, Tunisian human rights organisations also expressed concern about this lack of mention.

Omission or failed act?

During the 14 June webinar on the implementation of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2020-2024 in the MENA region, the Head of the EU Delegation in Tunisia, Mr Marcus Cornaro, highlighted the “tripartite/trilateral dialogue” involving the Tunisian authorities, civil society and the EU. This is an important and unprecedented mechanism in the whole region, which has been encouraged by the EU itself to the point of wanting to replicate it elsewhere, such as in Morocco. However, this dialogue is not mentioned anywhere in the joint communiqué issued after your meeting with the President of the Tunisian Republic.

Like the Tunisian organisations that wrote to President Saïed [in French, in Arabic], EuroMed Rights is concerned about the lack of recognition of the role of Tunisian civil society in this communiqué. Hoping that this is an omission and not a failed act on your part, we would like to reaffirm that civil society must – more than ever – be a key stakeholder in the framework of EU-Tunisia relations, so that the democratic aspirations born of the 2011 revolution become a tangible and lasting reality. We hope that the European Union will take this demand fully into account.

Wadih Al-Asmar

EuroMed Rights President

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