Tunisia: Speech by High Representative Josep Borrell at the EP plenary

Tunisia is our close neighbour and partner,.

The extension and unprecedented exceptional measures confirming, among others, the suspension of the Parliament – not the cancelling of the Parliament, which would be clearly unconstitutional, but the suspension – and the deep socio-economic crisis, which the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened, are increasingly raising apprehension among us and among all main international partners.

The European Union has built a strong partnership with Tunisia. Since 2011, since the Arab Spring that started there, in Tunisia, we have strongly supported its democratic consolidation, both politically and financially. Democratic transitions often prove to be long and extremely challenging. And this is the case in Tunisia. Sometimes these transitions can even risk being disappointing when the populations do not immediately see the dividends – and this has been the case in Tunisia -, but their acquis must always be preserved – and this has to be the case in Tunisia.

Immediately after President [Kaïs] Saïed suspended the Parliament – suspended, not cancelled, but a permanent and non-ending suspension can be something similar to cancelling it – the European Union expressed its position through the Declaration that I issued on behalf of all Member States on 27 July. I then reached out to President Saïed when I visited Tunisia and had a long and frank discussion with him in early September – so, as you can see, I have been following very closely the events in this country – and we spoke again last Friday over the phone. I was in the United States, but nevertheless I wanted to have a phone call with him to talk about the consequences of the decree and the formation of a government. As you may have seen, I went public on the key messages that I conveyed, and the President did the same.

On both occasions, President Saïed and I had very frank exchanges and I clearly expressed the apprehensions in Europe over the latest developments, in particular on this presidential decree of 22 September that extended the exceptional measures, granting the President additional powers. President Saïed is a professor of Constitutional Law, so he knows better than I do the theory of the question. When I talked with him, he gave lots of explanations from the constitutional theory about the well-founded of his decisions. I reiterated that the preservation of the democratic acquis, the parliamentary democracy and institutional stability, the respect for the separation of powers, the rule of law and an independent judiciary, as well as the respect of fundamental rights and freedoms, are key for the long-term stability and prosperity in Tunisia.

The President has been very much critical of the functioning of the Tunisian democracy, he had also referred me to some events that happened inside the Tunisian Parliament – today closed – and the behaviour of the political parties that, according to his ideas, were not working on behalf of the wellbeing of the Tunisian people.

For a certain time, there has not been a Prime Minister and the recent appointment of a new one, Madame Nalja Bouden Romdhane, is certainly a positive step, but the power of this government is a different one from the previous one that was dismissed by the President. The establishment of a functioning government is certainly crucial to immediately start tackling the many challenges that Tunisia faces. And we have to salute this event.

However, it is crucial – for the country’s future, and its domestic and international credibility – that the President and the Tunisian authorities at all levels fully restore the constitutional and institutional order, including the Parliamentary activity – the Parliament cannot stay closed indefinitely – and that they set a clear timetable for its reopening.

I have to mention that the Parliamentarians have been sent home, lost their immunity, lost their salary and lost their activity. So, the Parliament has to restore its activities.

During my call with President Saïed last Friday, I took note, in particular, of the President’s reassurance – he reassured me in very clear words – that he intends to limit what he called a “period of exceptional measures”, in accordance with an article of the Constitution that allows him to act when the country is facing a dangerous situation. And, at the same time, to engage in a national dialogue to put the basis for a new restarting of the Tunisian democracy.

What matters now is to put this into practice, with a clear timetable. 

In such a worrisome situation, and in the name of the strategic and solid partnership that we have with Tunisia and the important amount of financial resources that we are allocating to the development of this country, it is fundamental, for both sides, that we maintain a serious and open dialogue. In full respect of Tunisia’s sovereignty – for sure, needless to say -, but also of the wishes and aspirations of its citizens, we desire to keep supporting the Tunisian people with the ultimate purpose of encouraging the Tunisian authorities to restore the way towards Constitutional normality in the weeks to come.

You can rest assured that I will remain vigilant, according to my duty. And I do hope that together, all European Union institutions, we will find the best way to help Tunisia preserve its democracy, stability and future prosperity. This is our shared objective and I am sure that the debate today will help to look to this purpose and to follow this path.

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