The Arab world has seen radical changes since 2011. These changes all began in the Tunisian Republic. Thus, it is all the more important that Tunisia makes the democratic change irreversible. Even though nobody knows where the development is heading, going back to the old situation is hardly conceivable. People are fed up with paternalism, oppression and having no prospects in life. The achievement of the Jasmine Revolution 2010/2011 and the flourishing democracy must not be jeopardised, considering the difficult current situation. I would like to see politically involved persons from government and opposition be aware of their responsibility for the well-being of the entire country at this very decisive moment of the burgeoning democracy in the Tunisian Republic.
Therefore, a real change can only succeed if the economic situation improves and especially young people see new opportunities. Supporting Tunisia in this process presents an opportunity, even for the Federal Republic of Germany. This is not about exporting a western-style democracy: a political system may only be stable in the long run if it is based on the notions of legitimacy of its own society. However, our cultural openness ends whenever fundamental rights are violated. Respecting human rights is a basic requirement for any support through German development cooperation.
Tunisia is important to us. This is why I conducted governmental talks with a partner country of the Maghreb region at the level of secretary of state in September 2012. These consultations reflected the new quality of the bilateral relations and the significance that the German government places on the political and economic change in Tunisia. The Joint Political Declaration signed in Berlin intensified the cooperation between Germany and Tunisia in the fields of education, higher education, vocational training and further education, research and innovation, including cooperation in the energy sector and with respect to good governance.
Tunisia has been a partner for Germany for decades. The Jasmine Revolution, however, opened a new chapter in our bilateral relationship.
Germany provides a three-figure amount in the millions for development cooperation and the German-Tunisian transformation partnership. We adapt cooperation to the new priorities of the country: development of remote regions, employment promotion and political transformation. Germany has converted 60 million euros in debts of the old Tunisia – funds that the new Tunisia can now use for development projects and job-creating measures in poorer regions. In addition, Germany provides 51 million euros to make it easier for smaller companies in Tunisia to access funds, thereby creating new long-term jobs. In the political transformation process, we support Tunisia in decentralisation, among other things, because decentralised planning procedures that involve the population can contribute to setting up a constructive relationship between the state and the society.
Economic freedom provides the framework for freedom of action. Especially young people want to improve their lives through their own work and actively contribute to shaping the Tunisia of tomorrow. They want to live the value of freedom. We support Tunisia in developing an ecologically sustainable, social and competitive economy. At the same time, the democratic development is laying the foundation for our further cooperation.
Our development cooperation is always aimed at improving the living conditions of the people: we improve water supply in agriculture so that farmers achieve higher yields. we improve the education of young people so that they find qualified employment more quickly. We improve the micro-finance sector so that small, self-employed entrepreneurs across the country have easier access to loans.
Young people want to make a difference. Anybody who has obtained a qualification through trainings and further education lasting several years has the right to expect good chances of employment. We create opportunities and possibilities in close cooperation with the private sector and arrange traineeships for university graduates. This way the graduates are able to gain professional experience and increase their chances of employment. Furthermore, market niches with growth potentials are identified and business formations in these fields are fostered. In Tunisian holiday regions, jobs are created in the tourism sector and, above all, safeguarded throughout the off-season.
Germany not only improves everyday life for the people living directly in the area, the economic framework conditions are also improved as a whole, that set the basis for sustainable growth. Through close cooperation with the German-Tunisian Chamber of Industry and Commerce (Auslandshandelskammer – AHK), and political advice by the Ministry of Industry on innovation and business formations, the competitiveness of the Tunisian economy is strengthened sustainably. This is how the investment conditions for the private sector and the people’s employment opportunities are improved.
Apart from this, many initiatives by different departments have been established in the framework of the transformation partnership agreed by the Federal Republic of Germany and the Tunisian Republic, which facilitate a flexible reaction to current challenges even today.
The first fruits of the Tunisian population’s efforts are becoming evident. For instance, Tunisia has rightly obtained the “status avancé” status with the EU. Tunisia is the first associated country of the region to achieve the status of a “privileged partnership” with the EU. From our perspective, this also represents a recognition of the democratic process in the country in political terms.
The status brings about tangible advantages for Tunisia. Previously there only was a free trade agreement with the European Union for Tunisian industrial goods. Now the legal framework has been established for allowing agricultural products and services to also benefit from these privileges. Better export conditions for Tunisia strengthen the economy in the country and create jobs. The partnership will provide further advantages for exports to the countries of the EU and improve the environment for foreign investors.
Tourists and investors have one thing in common: they both want security. Tunisia has significantly improved its international reputation through its mainly peaceful democratic transformation. This reputation should be preserved and developed further. To increase German investment noticeably, it is now important that the Tunisian government concentrate on the adoption of a constitution that unites the people and then holds free and fair elections based thereon. I am certain that these two steps will further increase Tunisia’s reputation in the world. To German companies I say: if you wait too long, you will miss out on the best opportunities.
The author is secretary of state of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and was federal managing director of the FDP party from 1995 to 2009. He learned the main features of development policy during his career at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation and served over 100 international missions in Central and South America as well as in Southeast Asia.