EU and Tunisia

At my boyfriend’s house we’re both involved in pirate politics and have been following the Tunisian situation very closely. This means the information flow is high from every possible angle and when he’s been following and updating me on the groundwork, I’ve been tracking the EU-Tunisia relations from 1995 forward.

In 1995 Tunisia was the first of the Magreb countries to conclude an association agreement with the EU. This means increased cooperation around trade and immigration issues. The relationship has grown deeper over the years and reach a sort of culmination point last year in Februari, when the parliament evaluated the latest free trade agreement from 2008.

Of course the European Parliament does not have the time to follow all activites the European Commission and the member states have with Tunisia, but some resolutions adopted by the parliament may still hold an indication of their positions.

Human rights are approximately in the middle of the agenda. Highest on the agenda is more trade and better cooperation around borders and immigration. Around 2007, I had this thing for DG Security, and during the French presidency I followed President Sarkoszy’s efforts to conclude a Mediterranean agreement on, among other things, immigration. The parliament was supporting these activities in a resolution from 2005, and supported it conditionally in two resolutions since then. The parliament really deserves credits for conditioning the deepening of border cooperation on human rights strengthening efforts.

Unfortunately, the Council of Ministers cannot be given the same respect. Especially with regards to the nuclear trade and weapons trade France is doing in the area. The Council seems not have cared about their own Joint Action from 2002 which combats weapons exports to countries where they can lead to the destabilising accumulation of firearms. In 2003 the Council recognises the risk of exporting weapons and ammunition to countries from which they can be sold further to oppressive regimes resolving to combat this. Tunisia is a known port for weapons and resales of, among others, weapons and ammunition.

The Parliament approved a resolution in 2010 on restricting the sales of weapons used for torture, with the exception of such arms as are currently used by the Tunisian police. In another resolution from 2009 the parliament expresses a strong support for further trade collaboration but a consideraly weaker support for social development. The language is important in resolutions, but I do note that education is considered a part of social development and that the parliament will presumably be unsatisfied with the closing of Tunisian schools and universities.

An unsatisfactory resolution of the parliament was adopted in 2006 in which the parliament champions Tunisia as the best representative of peace, prosperity and democracy in the region. To be fair, the Ben Ali regime has previously been complemented for combatting extreme islamism. The parliament noted this in 2002.

As far as I can see the Tunisian commitment to human rights are mostly made prior to Ben Ali coming into power in November 1987. The only commitment made since 1987 concerns arbitrary disappearances of people and as far as I’ve seen on globalvoices.org this is actually the case in Tunisia. This obviously doesn’t hold for treatment of prisoner, but the convention adopted on non-torture and non-degrading behaviour of prisoners adopted by the Tunisian parliament, ironically, was not adopted under the Ben Ali regime.

We’ve seen Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative on foreign affairs, make a diplomatically harsh statement on the ongoing protests in Tunisia. Human rights organisations are righteously upset about the high number of deaths among protesters.

That’s why the European Parliament debate on the Tunisia-EU relationships held in February 2010 of particular interest. You probably need to read them in their entirely to appreciate them to the extent they deserve.

I get slightly tired from the hard words of Catherine Ashton. I appreciate diplomacy, and positive incentives for further development of human rights is very good. But the protests in Sidi Bouzid are the results of at least 15 years of diplomacy and appreciation. Fifteen years. I’m a bit tired of nice words. Can we have trade sanctions please? Now.

(Thanks Thijs Markus for sending me the europarl debate link)

Others writing on Tunisia: HAX, Christian Engström, Torrentfreak, 24sur24, al-Jazira, DN, SR, Sydsvenskan, SvD, NOS, NRC, WSJ (read this!), The Register, The Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, Le Monde, me, <a href="more me

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