Saturday

31st Oct 2020

EU in 'solidarity' with Tunisian people, quiet about rest of north Africa

  • Two sides of the EU: Bildt said the EU's north Africa policy had failed, while Alliot-Marie suggested sending forces to help the regime (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The European Union has offered to help organise elections in Tunisia following its democratic uprising that culminated in the flight of leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to Saudi Arabia.

On Monday (17 January) EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton and neighbourhood policy commissioner Stefan Fuele declared the EU's "solidarity" with the popular uprising in Tunisia and "paid tribute to the courage" of the democracy movement.

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"In this critical moment, we reaffirm the EU's solidarity with Tunisia and its people. We condemn, once again, the violent repression of the demonstrations and reiterate our sympathy to the families and friends of the victims," they said in a statement. "We pay tribute to the courage of the Tunisian people and their peaceful struggle for their rights and democratic aspirations."

"The message from the Tunisian people is loud and clear: Tunisia has reached a point of no-return. The EU will stand side by side with Tunisians as they pursue their peaceful and democratic aspirations."

The pair urged the Tunisian authorities to "act responsibly, preserve peace, show restraint and avoid further violence and casualties."

The statement also condemned "any actions aiming at further destabilising the security situation."

The EU is currently holding internal consultations regarding the situation and is working on a "package to support the democratic transition."

This includes an offer of immediate assistance to organise elections, an economic package and, if requested, "to deploy the necessary assistance to help the Tunisian authorities".

Protests in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Mauritania

However, asked whether this "solidarity" extended to other democracy movements across north Africa, the commission refused to be drawn regarding other regimes in the region.

"We cannot speculate on situations that are not ongoing," said foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic.

Over the weekend, four suicide protests similar to the previous death of 26-year-old graduate Muhammad Bouazizi in Tunisia, took place in Algeria, while a pair also occurred in Mauritania and Egypt. Riots have swept Algeria in recent weeks over soaring food prices. In response, the government has lowered the price of cooking oil and sugar. Thousands of Jordanians have also taken to the streets in protest at inflation.

"We have made our position clear on the situation in Algeria. We are following the situation in algeria closely. We have called for calm and restraint ... and called on the Algerian authorities to continue meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders," Ms Kocjancic said.

The bloc has been the subject of renewed criticism by human rights groups in the last week for its support of authoritarian governments along the southern coast of the Mediterranean.

In the past week, the two souls of Europe have been on display regarding the region, with Sweden acknowledging the European policy to have been a "failure" on the one hand and French foreign minister Michelle Alliot-Marie's offering to send riot police to help the Tunisian authorities "restore order".

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has since performed an about-face and declared his "determined support" to the "democratic desires" of the Tunisian people.

A commission source however was quick to stress that France is no longer in the driver's seat when it come's to Africa policy.

"There's a new politics in the EU now. Traditionally, France and Spain, the ex-colonial powers told the rest of Europe to shut up and we'll sort things out; we'll maintain stability in our spheres of influence," the official told EUobserver. "Things have changed. No longer is foreign policy decided by this or that big member state. When in the past would you have seen Sweden speak out on what has always been France's area?"

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