The Brief – Don’t ignore your neighbours

By Benjamin Fox | EURACTIV

The image above is for illustration and is of EURACTIV.

It’s a truism that Europe is unstable if its North African neighbours are unstable. That being so, it should be of some concern to EU leaders that, on the bloc’s south Mediterranean border, Tunisia’s 10-year-old democracy appears to be on life support.

The Brief is EURACTIV’s evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/STR]

President Kais Saied’s move to summarily dismiss the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspend parliament, which is now being barricaded by troops, poses a potentially existential threat to the Arab Spring’s single, albeit qualified, success story.

The moderate Islamic party Ennahda, the largest party in parliament, has decried President Saied’s actions as a coup against Tunisian democracy and its constitution. Parliament has been suspended for a month and a new government will be formed.

The “counter-revolution” as the likes of Ennahda have described the situation, is not totally unexpected. At the weekend, thousands of people across Tunisia demonstrated against Mechichi and Ennahda.

In the last decade of democracy, economic inequalities and unemployment have increased in Tunisia. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the slow pace of vaccination programmes, have intensified popular anger with the succession of governments led by nine prime ministers.

Yet while this is a national crisis, it is remarkable just how passive the EU has been as a stream of countries in the Maghreb region – the heart of the eagerly embraced Arab Spring in 2011 – have drifted back to authoritarianism or, in the case of Libya, to being failed states.

The EU has resources and financial instruments that could have been used to boost investment and economic development to help the democratic governments that emerged from the Arab Spring. For the most part, they have not been utilised.

Apart from counter-terrorism and border-management partnerships with security services in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, the North African countries have hardly figured in the regional policies of EU member states, except in France and Italy, which have colonial-era ties to much of the region.

For an organisation that loves to talk about its fundamental values, the EU gives the impression that it couldn’t care less whether its southern neighbour governments are democratic or a dictatorship.

The EU’s Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood, published in February, promises a €7 billion Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours, a small sum in relative terms.

Meanwhile, little progress has been made on trade relations and Tunisia is one of several in the region to be unhappy with the terms of its association agreement with the EU.

Whether it’s the Western Balkans, Turkey, or eastern Europe, passivity has too often been the trademark of the EU’s approach. The result is that rival powers have filled the void in the EU’s neighbourhood. But as we know, if your neighbour’s house gets messy, it invariably spills over into your backyard.

It’s a truism that Europe is unstable if its North African neighbours are unstable. That being so, it should be of some concern to EU leaders that, on the bloc’s south Mediterranean border, Tunisia’s 10-year-old democracy appears to be on life support.

President Kais Saied’s move to summarily dismiss the government of Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspend parliament, which is now being barricaded by troops, poses a potentially existential threat to the Arab Spring’s single, albeit qualified, success story.

The moderate Islamic party Ennahda, the largest party in parliament, has decried President Saied’s actions as a coup against Tunisian democracy and its constitution. Parliament has been suspended for a month and a new government will be formed.

The “counter-revolution” as the likes of Ennahda have described the situation, is not totally unexpected. At the weekend, thousands of people across Tunisia demonstrated against Mechichi and Ennahda.

In the last decade of democracy, economic inequalities and unemployment have increased in Tunisia. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the slow pace of vaccination programmes, have intensified popular anger with the succession of governments led by nine prime ministers.

Yet while this is a national crisis, it is remarkable just how passive the EU has been as a stream of countries in the Maghreb region – the heart of the eagerly embraced Arab Spring in 2011 – have drifted back to authoritarianism or, in the case of Libya, to being failed states.

The EU has resources and financial instruments that could have been used to boost investment and economic development to help the democratic governments that emerged from the Arab Spring. For the most part, they have not been utilised.

Apart from counter-terrorism and border-management partnerships with security services in Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt, the North African countries have hardly figured in the regional policies of EU member states, except in France and Italy, which have colonial-era ties to much of the region.

For an organisation that loves to talk about its fundamental values, the EU gives the impression that it couldn’t care less whether its southern neighbour governments are democratic or a dictatorship.

The EU’s Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood, published in February, promises a €7 billion Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours, a small sum in relative terms.

Meanwhile, little progress has been made on trade relations and Tunisia is one of several in the region to be unhappy with the terms of its association agreement with the EU.

Whether it’s the Western Balkans, Turkey, or eastern Europe, passivity has too often been the trademark of the EU’s approach. The result is that rival powers have filled the void in the EU’s neighbourhood. But as we know, if your neighbour’s house gets messy, it invariably spills over into your backyard.

Read original article.


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