Out of all North African countries after the series of the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, Tunisia is exceptional. While its process of democratization is still ongoing, to make it really happen and move the country forward towards democracy, Europe must take its due part. The key to making Tunisia a successful example for the Arab world is to realize that Tunisia’s future lies in the same place where the 2010-2011 uprising erupted – in its “periphery“. Tunisia’s peripheral regions, far away from the coasts of the Mediterranean, are were the many afflictions and challenges are buried. If left unchecked, the peripheral regions could swiftly end Tunisia’s battle to establish a fully-fledged democracy.
Tunisia’s peripheral regions suffer greatly from weak economic growth and they lag behind the economically developed coastal regions. Their high levels of poverty and joblessness are a legacy of long years of underinvestment and general negligence. Moreover, regional conflict, terrorism and organized crime have led the government to crack down on security threats in the peripheral regions, which has disrupted the informal and often illegal economic networks on which much of the population depends, but which in turn caused the local people to lose their faith in the government.
Tunisia has received generous support from its international partners since the 2011 uprising and thus has abundant resources to work with. However, it must boost its regional governance and address fragmentation within the ruling party in order to succeed. To that end, Europeans are now in a unique position to help Tunisia fight this lonely battle towards democracy through numerous measures. But what can and should the European Union do?
First, it could boost the incentives for Tunisia by offering it a membership in the European Economic Area, thus galvanizing the country’s journey towards stability. Second, the European Union should help Tunis promote the role of the country’s private sector, implement an effective mechanism for positive discrimination and strengthen civil society in the peripheries. In terms of the EU-Tunisian cooperation, Tunisia will need to create a policy unit to improve cross-sectorial planning and coordination with the EU institutions and a broader international community and come up to the table with well-defined and budgeted strategies.
‘Peripheral Vision: How Europe Can Help Preserve Tunisia’s Fragile Democracy’ – Policy Brief by Hamza Meddeb – European Council on Foreign Relations.