Europe needs to adopt Tunisia

This year, Tunisians will be electing a new president and parliament, as well as regional and local representatives. Will the country's political parties succeed in campaigning fairly and in forming an effective government? A commentary by Christian-Peter Hanelt.

Prominent Europeans – including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, French President François Hollande and Norbert Lammert, president of Germany's Bundestag – journeyed to Tunis to congratulate their small North African neighbor on its new constitution, the most liberal and democratic in the Muslim world. It took ongoing efforts by trade unions, business groups, human rights organizations and others to overcome the mistrust between Islamists and the country's secular population. Ultimately, the national dialogue made compromise possible.

This year, however, the country will be electing a new president and parliament, as well as regional and local representatives. Will its political parties succeed in campaigning fairly and in forming an effective government? Europe needs to do more than repeatedly dispatch its special representative for the Southern Mediterranean region. Brussels has promised to send election monitors and financial aid, yet it will be "politically unavailable" from now until November given the upcoming European Parliament and European Commission elections. That means the EU's 28 member states must step into the breach. In April, Germany's and France's foreign ministers took the lead by traveling to Tunis. Poland should also play a prominent role, since it can share with Tunisia its experience of making the transition to a functioning democracy.

International financial institutions are ensuring that Tunisia remains solvent, although their policies of providing stop-gap aid need to be augmented with meaningful investments. Agriculture is labor intensive and can provide jobs. The EU therefore needs to loosen restrictions and allow more agricultural imports from Tunisia, the way it has for the Republic of Moldova.  

Individual EU member states should become development partners for Tunisia's eight poorest governorates. Young entrepreneurs from Tunisia are keen to create jobs, and their startups need advisors who can help them obtain funding and franchise agreements.

More Tunisians should be allowed to participate in the Erasmus Mundus program and in the activities laid out in the mobility partnership. Few of the countries bordering the EU are cause for hope. Tunisia is. Let us therefore adopt our small Mediterranean neighbor.

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