A Tunisian flag is blowing in the wind.

A new chapter in the history of democracy

In his opening remarks at the Bertelsmann Stiftung's second European Neighbourhood Conference, which is being held from April 28 to 30 in Tunis, German President Joachim Gauck praised host country Tunisia as a successful "role model for freedom-loving people in the entire region."

At the start of second European Neighbourhood Conference in Tunis, German President Joachim Gauck commended this year’s host country, Tunisia, for serving as a role model for all of North Africa. His moving remarks to over three hundred guests repeatedly drew parallels between what East Germans experienced in 1989 and Tunisia's current transformation into a modern democracy. The changes are happening "this time in a country home to Arabic and Islamic culture," he said.  

The German president also noted the differences between East Germany during the time of its collapse and the ouster of Tunisia's dictator. "Comparing the peaceful revolution in East Germany in 1989 with the situation in Tunisia, it is clear how much more difficult things were and still are here," he said. "This unexpected event has confirmed for me once again that we as humans have a basic need for freedom."

“People will always aspire to be free. And those who trust in that aspiration will no longer be afraid.”

German President Joachim Gauck

Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, thanked the president, saying "Your words have touched my heart – all of our hearts." Prior to Gauck's speech, Liz Mohn, vice-chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board, promised support and called on Tunisians to have courage. "Since the revolution in 2011, Tunisia has initiated many important transformation processes, politically, socially and economically," she said. "Through its project Strengthening and Connecting Europe, the Bertelsmann Stiftung wants to promote dialogue and understanding in the Mediterranean region."  

“Tunisia has a key role to play in building bridges to Europe and Germany.”

Liz Mohn, vice-chair of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Executive Board

In addition to President Gauck, who is making his first official visit to Tunisia, the conference participants include Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid and three of his cabinet ministers, as well as European Commissioner for the European Neighbourhood Policy Johannes Hahn and former Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, who is also a member of the Bertelsmann Stiftung Board of Trustees. Cooperation partners for the event are the German-Tunisian Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Research Center and the Centre of Mediterranean and International Studies.

During the gathering in the Tunisian capital, some 60 experts from Europe and North Africa will discuss how a revised European Neighbourhood Policy can support political and socioeconomic transformation processes in the countries located directly south of the EU. The discussions will focus on moving democratization processes forward in the region, promoting economic development and foreign investment, and reforming local job markets and vocational training systems.

During the initial discussion round held as part of the public forum on Tuesday, participants looked at what both the EU and Tunisia expect. In his remarks, Prime Minister Essid emphasized the crucial role that the country’s young people played in putting Tunisia on its path to democracy. "The Tunisian Spring came about because of our young people, and my government’s agenda is now to make sure they are satisfied," he said.  

In his remarks during the initial discussion round, EU representative and Arab-world expert Michael Köhler said the EU intends to help achieve that goal and has therefore doubled its aid since 2011, even if Tunisia's democratic legislators are the ones who must decide where the funds are applied. "In light of that, the EU is also depending on Tunisia to implement a successful policy of reform," he said. "The chances of that happening are good," replied Tunisia's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs M'hamed Ezzine Chélaifa. "After all, Tunisia now has the same values as the European Union."

Impressions of the Conference