Since the 2011 Jasmine Revolution, Tunisia has not only developed fundamentally at the domestic level, but also in its external relations. New and old alliances, a broadening of relations, and new forms of civil society activism – alongside Tunisia’s growing presence in international organisations – certify that the country has the potential to play an increasingly central role regionally as well as internationally.
The government has an extensive diplomatic network, with embassies in 62 countries globally, and is a member of regional and international bodies such as the UN, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union.
As one of the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood partners, Tunisia holds a special status in relation to the EU. Political dialogue between the two parties has risen significantly since the 2011 revolution, with regular high-level exchanges and visits.
Financial contributions to Tunisia have increased significantly as well. Under the European Neighbourhood Policy, Tunisia receives financial support from the EU. For example, between 2017 and 2018, the EU pledged to provide assistance worth €10m to Tunisia under Erasmus+ in order to increase the numbers of exchanges of students and staff between Tunisia and Europe. This funding will enable 1500 students, young people and higher education staff in Europe and Tunisia to study, train or teach abroad and exchange their experiences over the course of the programme’s two-year period.
Within Europe, France remains Tunisia’s principal partner as a result of the historic ties between the two countries. Tunisia was a French colony up until 1956 so the countries continue to be interconnected on a number of different levels. In February 2018 French President Emmanuel Macron made his first state visit to Tunisia where he pledged his support for the democracy and promised extra investment to help the development of the country’s economy.
Looking to Africa
On the global stage, the African continent has arguably the largest potential for development and progress over the coming half century. Tunisia, because of its history and its geographical position, has a leading role to play in realising the continent’s growth. The Tunisia Africa Business Council, led by major players in the economy, was created to put Tunisia-Africa relations at the heart of the government’s goals.
In early 2017 the country announced that it wanted to join ECOWAS and as of November of that year, the country obtained observer status. According to Khemaies Jhinaoui, Tunisia’s foreign minister, an agreement protocol was also signed with the West African intergovernmental organisation to put in place an economic roadmap between Tunisia and the organisation. In addition, a freetrade zone will be created between Tunisia and ECOWAS member states. Although the country’s current trade with member states amounts to 1% of the total, the objective is to increase this to 10% over the coming years, according to Omar Behia, the Tunisian minister of commerce.
In order to increase Tunisia’s economic opportunities in Africa, reinforcing the country’s diplomatic missions to the rest of the continent and consolidating strategic partnerships could be a positive move.
As of 2017 Tunisia will have a total of 10 embassies throughout Africa, though there are 53 other countries across the continent. Therefore, opening new embassies and facilitating the process for obtaining visas for those leaving African countries where Tunisia does not yet have an embassy is important. Lastly, to increase exchanges between Tunisia and the rest of Africa, easier access to other countries in the region could be facilitated. Despite the fact that Tunisair opened a new flight to Cotonou in Benin last year, more efforts can be made to establish greater connectedness between country and continent.
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