The economic development in Tunisia has not gone as desired since the Jasmine Revolution in 2011. A decade later, Tunisia's streets and squares are once again filled with protesters begging for better living conditions. A free trade agreement with the EU could create prosperity in Tunisia, despite this, there is a great deal of suspicion within the country's civil society. The Swedish ambassador, Anna Block Mozayer, discusses this and the significance, opportunities and challenges of the free trade agreement.
Anna Block Mazoyer has worked for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs for 32 years. During these years, she has worked at the Middle East and North Africa Unit (UD MENA) in Stockholm and has been stationed in Algiers, New York, Paris and Rabat, among other places. Since September 2019, Block Mazoyer has been Sweden's ambassador in Tunis for Tunisia and Libya. After the Jasmine Revolution in 2011, the Tunisian democratization process began and the EU saw the development as an opportunity to develop its cooperation with the country. In an interview with Utvecklingsmagasinet, Block Mazoyer tells how the EU has tried to improve its trade relations with Tunisia over the past decade, but without any further success.
"The EU offered Tunisia the opportunity to be part of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) after the Jasmine Revolution. However, the Tunisian administration was busy drafting the new constitution. The Tunisians were therefore not ready to negotiate a new trade agreement with the EU ", says Anna Block Mazoyer.
Anna Block Mazoyer also points out the problem that there was no dialogue between the Tunisian administration and the business community.
"One hand does not know what the other is doing. Unfortunately, the lack of communication has led to a lost opportunity for Tunisia. An opportunity that could have benefited Tunisian companies that I think could have been adjusted and ready if an agreement had been in place ", says Block Mazoyer.
Civil society expresses suspicion
There is also a great deal of suspicion within Tunisian civil society towards the EU's intentions with DCFTA. The suspicion is based on the belief that the EU only wants to enrich itself at the expense of Tunisia.
"The thoughts on the free trade agreement are characterized by the view of the EU as; here are those who do not want us to migrate there, here are those who say no to visas and so they want to throw at us something that benefits them ", says Block Mazoyer.
The misconceptions about what a free trade agreement may contain are obvious in Tunisian civil society. A strong desire on the part of civil society is, among other things, to talk about migration. Block Mazoyer clarifies that the European Commission's mandate and powers are in contrast to the desire of Tunisian civil society to include migration issues in the FTA.
"The European Commission only has a mandate for trade, while EU Member States have a mandate for their own migration policy. Therefore, it will be impossible to include migration in a free trade agreement. This is not about the European Commission not wanting to talk about migration. They can not talk about migration. "
However, there is justified suspicion against DCFTA, Block Mazoyer claims. Within the EU, there are interests that want to preserve trade as it is. Countries such as Italy and Spain have similar exports to Tunisia, ie fruit, vegetables and olive oil, and had therefore become direct competitors to Tunisia through Tunisia's inclusion in the DCFTA. The goods to be included in the EU - Tunisia Free Trade Agreement are therefore of great importance to some EU Member States.
The agreement needs to be changed
Block Mazoyer claims that a free trade agreement between Tunisia and the EU can contribute to prosperity and a growing Tunisian economy. Tunisia is already the country in the world that receives the most per capita support from the EU. Through Tunisia's inclusion in DCFTA, trade relations can be developed between the parties and Tunisia can receive additional support in the form of job creation and economic independence. Block Mazoyer points out, however, that the EU's offer to Tunisia must change. If Tunisia is to be included in the DCFTA, the EU must reformulate and rename its offer.
"The idea with the offer was that Tunisia would give demands to the EU on what they themselves wanted to include in the agreement, which has not happened. The Tunisian side therefore needs to increase the dialogue between the administration, civil society and the business community in order to be able to identify what they want to include in the agreement, ”concludes Block Mazoyer.
The Jasmine Revolution
Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest of police seizure of his fruit stand on December 17, 2010. The protest, which would be Bouazizi's death and the start of the Jasmine Revolution and the Arab Spring, resulted in protests against incumbent President Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali was to spread like wildfire across the country. The demands for democracy and better living conditions for the Tunisian people now echoed through the streets and squares of Tunisia. A message that would then be spread beyond the country's borders. The pressure on Ben Ali would be far too apparent for the incumbent president, who was therefore forced to flee the country on January 14, 2011 for Saudi Arabia and a life in exile. Ten years later, Tunisia is the only country where the Arab Spring has resulted in a democratization process.