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European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR)
News article25 October 2018Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations5 min read

The EU-Tunisia partnership also helps boost Tunisia’s economy

In the seven years since the beginning of the 2011 Revolution, the Tunisian people have been working towards a modern democracy based on freedoms, economic development, and social justice.


In the seven years since the beginning of the 2011 Revolution, the Tunisian people have been working towards a modern democracy based on freedoms, economic development, and social justice.

The European Union has been Tunisia's key partner in this process. Cooperation in a wide range of domains has been reinforced through a Privileged Partnership established in 2012. The EU's commitment to support Tunisia to help it achieve its ambitions was underlined again in the 2016 Joint Communication "Strengthening EU support for Tunisia" and the launch, by HR/VP Mogherini and President Essebsi, of the EU-Tunisia Youth Partnership.

Nearly EUR 10 billion is being made available to Tunisia in ongoing financial assistance delivered by the EU, its Member States, and its financial institutions through grants, loans, and equity. In addition to these funds, the EU also supports Tunisia with knowhow, and by granting Tunisia access to the EU's own programmes.

In the areas of youth, support to economic reforms, promotion of investment, and research and innovation, the partnership has led to:

  • Increased financial cooperation

Since 2011, the EU has doubled its financial allocation to Tunisia. In 2017, the EU kept the promise made in the 2016 Joint Communication, to raise the annual level of new grants to EUR 300 million. At the 15 May 2018 Association Council in Brussels, Commissioner Hahn announced that this promise will be kept again this year, bringing EU grants to Tunisia to exceptional levels.

In 2018, EUR 300 million will be programmed to support youth, inclusive local economic development, strategic infrastructures, and tourism. This will include a new programme in support of Tunisian start-ups and incubators. In addition to many ongoing activities in support of education, mobility, research and innovation, a new programme will further strengthen the EU-Tunisia Youth partnership by increasing the employability and social inclusion of youth in the most vulnerable regions in the country.

Thanks to EU support, hundreds of Tunisian students and staff of higher education institutions benefit from Erasmus scholarships in Europe – 1143 in 2017 alone. Nearly 70 schools have been rehabilitated. Some 90 schools already participate in eTwinning Plus, the network which connects classrooms in the EU and six neighbouring countries and is use by the Tunisian government to promote digitalization in education. Over 61,000 young people have received EU-funded microcredits to start or grow a small business. Many young people have benefited from other EU-funded actions to support employment and private sector development and a number of Grassroots organisations received grants to develop social and green entrepreneurship projects.

All these initiatives are developed in close cooperation with the Tunisian authorities. In the coming days, four new major programmes will be launched to support 1) trade and competitiveness; 2) fiscal reforms, financial inclusion and the social and solidarity economy; 3) renewable energies and energy efficiency, and 4) the justice sector.

The EU also provides knowhow through technical assistance – for instance to support the improvement of the regulatory framework and provide expertise on the negotiations for a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA). The DCFTA will help modernise the Tunisian economy and support structural reforms necessary to create growth. EU technical assistance is designed to help Tunisia get the most out of its agreements with Europe e.g. by eliminating technical barriers to trade, and spreading awareness of how to comply with EU sanitary and phytosanitary standards so that products are eligible to enter the EU market.

  • Enhanced Tunisian participation in EU programmes

In 2016, Tunisia became the first Arab and African countries associated to the EU's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (H2020), which provides new opportunities to Tunisian researchers and academics under the same conditions as their peers in EU Member States. In Tunisia, the research community has put in place a dynamic researchers' network to ensure that it reaps most benefits from its association to H2020. So far, their joint efforts and the quality of their projects have already allowed Tunisia to win projects worth more than EUR 7.5 million. The participation of Tunisia in H2020 is also having an impact in terms of (i) research and innovation governance reform, (ii) the development of new professions including evaluators, scientific diplomacy experts, etc., (iii) the setting-up a new financing mechanism based on clear objectives and the quality of projects, and (iv) an increased focus on quality control.

In 2017, Tunisia became the first country of the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood associated to the EU programme "Creative Europe", which supports the culture and media sectors, promoting cross-border cooperation, platforms, networking, literary translation and the distribution of audio-visual works.

Work has started to include Tunisia in the Smart Specialisation initiative (S3) of the European Commission. S3 helps identify regional strengths and potential as a basis to attract investments. This initiative will complement the ongoing decentralisation and socioeconomic reforms the government is undertaking with the support of the EU.

  • Macro financial assistance

Since 2014, Tunisia has had the opportunity to benefit from Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) worth EUR 800 million (MFA-I finalised in 2017: EUR 300 million; ongoing MFA-II: EUR 500 million, of which EUR 300 million remain to be disbursed pending implementation of policy conditions). The two programmes, in the form of concessional loans, were designed jointly by the EU and the Tunisian authorities to alleviate Tunisia's balance of payments and budgetary situation, while supporting the country in making headway with key economic reforms. These include measures improving the sustainability of public finances, enhancing the country's social protection mechanisms, fostering employment, and promoting private investment by improving the business climate.

  • Increased leverage on investment

In 2017, the EU, its Member States, and Financial institutions have offered EUR 1 billion in new commitments, which have enabled investments worth a total of about EUR 2 billion.

  • External Investment Plan

The External Investment Plan was launched in 2017 to promote a new model of participation of the private sector in some of the EU’s partner countries. The Plan goes beyond 'classical development assistance', by using guarantees and innovative financial instruments to support investment, trade, domestic resource mobilisation, and good governance, and Tunisia is well placed to benefit.

A few achievements of the EU-Tunisia Partnership

  • About 1.7 million microcredits were awarded to women and people living in rural areas.
  • Over 61,000 young people gained access to finance through microcredits in order to start or grow a small business.
  • 740 industrial companies have received on-site “coaching”, and 470 companies targeted assistance, aimed at boosting their competitiveness and at broadening their access to markets.
  • 211 Tunisian SMEs received targeted support in a wide range of areas including marketing, development strategy, quality management, communication.
  • Over 60 multipurpose venues (e.g. sports halls, cultural and youth spaces) were built – this directly benefits young Tunisians in 119 neighbourhoods in 6 governorates, and 685,000 inhabitants altogether.
  • 60 basic health centres were rehabilitated and 13 intermediary centres built.

For more information on EU-Tunisia relations, please click here or visit the website of the EU Delegation to Tunisia.