Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twelfth Report


4 EU-Tunisia relations

(28245)

COM(06) 776

Draft Council Decision on a Community position in the Association Council on the implementation of Article 84 of the Euro-Mediterranean Agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States and the Tunisian Republic

Legal baseArt 300 EC; unanimity
Document originated8 December 2008
Deposited in Parliament16 January 2007
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM of 1 March 2007
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see HC 38-ii (2004-05) para 9 (8 December 2004) HC 41-i (2006-07) para 15 (22 November 2006) and HC 41-iv (2006-07) para 14 (14 December 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilTo be determined
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background

4.1 The Euro-Mediterranean Conference of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in Barcelona on 27-28 November 1995, marked the starting point of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Also known as the Barcelona Process, it has the aim of building "a space of dialogue, peace, security and shared prosperity". The Mediterranean Partners are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey (Libya has observer status since 1999). The Partnership is described by the Commission as "a wide framework of political, economic and social relations between the Member States of the European Union and Partners of the Southern Mediterranean" and "a unique and ambitious initiative", which laid the foundations of a new regional relationship and represented "a turning point in Euro-Mediterranean relations".[17] We considered it most recently on the basis of a Commission Communication "The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: Time to Deliver".[18]

4.2 The wider context also includes the European Neighbourhood Policy, which the Committee has considered on a number of occasions — in particular, the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan for Tunisia, which our predecessors considered along with 6 other such Action Plans with "Euromed" partners in December 2004,[19] and the recent Commission Communication "On strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy".[20]

4.3 The Commission notes that Association Agreements form the legal basis for the European Union's relations with the countries participating in the Barcelona Process. It says that the increasing technical complexity of the Union's relations with the southern Mediterranean countries arising from the implementation of the Euro-Mediterranean agreements and of the European Neighbourhood Policy requires the working of the institutions of the Agreements to be brought into line with this development; and that sub-committees of the association committees have therefore been set up in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean agreements to monitor implementation of the partnership priorities and the approximation of legislation.

4.4 The EU-Tunisia Association Agreement entered into force on 1 March 1998. It established an Association Council (at ministerial level) and an Association Committee (at senior official level). Six subcommittees have already been set up — Internal Market, Industry, Trade and Services; Transport; Environment and Energy; Research and Innovation; Agriculture and Fisheries; and Justice and Security — and a Customs Cooperation Committee and a Working Group on Social Affairs are being set up.

4.5 The Commission then goes on to say that:

"Human rights and fundamental freedoms form an integral and essential part of the framework governing relations between the European Union and its Mediterranean partners, both within the regional context of the Barcelona process/Euro-Mediterranean partnership and through the bilateral Association Agreements concluded with the Mediterranean partner countries."

The Council Decision

4.6 Against this background and in line with the Action Plan and Neighbourhood Policy agreed between the EU and Tunisia, the Commission proposes the formal creation of a new Sub-committee on Human Rights and Democracy. It would be composed of representatives of the European Community and the Member States and of the Tunisian government, who would chair the meetings in turn. It would report to the Association Committee after each meeting, to whom it could also make proposals. The Commission explains that the subcommittee would be chaired, as far as the EU is concerned, according to the same rules as apply to the Association Committee; that when subjects falling under Titles V and VI of the European Union agreement are discussed, a representative of the Council presidency will chair the committee and also express the position of the Member States; and that in such cases the Commission will be fully involved in discussions on the approach to be followed and the objectives to be achieved during the meeting of the sub-committee.

4.7 The objective, the subjects covered by the sub-committee and the implementing procedures are contained in the rules of procedure which are set out in a draft annex. The preamble includes the following:

"The Neighbourhood Policy sets itself ambitious aims based on mutually recognised attachment to shared values encompassing democracy, the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights."

4.8 The Commission notes that "the tasks and rules of procedure of the subcommittee have been discussed informally with the Tunisian authorities". This includes the sub-committee monitoring implementation of human rights and democracy measures under the EU-Tunisia Action Plan and evaluating progress, examining problems and suggesting steps that might be taken in:

—  strengthening democracy and the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, access to justice and "the modernisation of the latter";

—  ratifying and implementing the principal conventions on human rights and fundamental freedoms and progress in ratifying the optional protocols relating to the agreements to which Tunisia is party; and

—  strengthening national administrative and institutional capacity.

The Government's view

4.9 In his 1 March 2007 Explanatory Memorandum, the Minister for Europe at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr Geoffrey Hoon) explains that the EU currently has no structured means of discussing human rights and good governance with the Tunisian authorities, and that this sub-committee would provide such a framework for regular dialogue at official level. He notes that "promotion of human rights set out in international instruments is central to the UK's foreign policy" and that the Government aims "to encourage improved standards through our bilateral relations and the EU". He supports the proposal.

4.10 He notes that the agreement of the Tunisian Government will be required before the proposal can be put to the Council for decision; and that he is presently awaiting the Tunisian government's response to the draft.

Conclusion

4.11 When we considered the Communication on the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, we noted that the sums involved are significant: programme expenditure under the financial envelope for the European Neighbourhood Partnership Instrument for 2007-10 is €5.66 billion, of which approximately €3.5 billion is for the Southern partners. We also noted that, eleven years on, it was difficult to see the region as being significantly closer to a "space of dialogue, peace, security and shared prosperity" and that, in the crucial area of governance, the commitment of the "Euro-Med" Partners to taking the process forward remained uncertain.

4.12 Looking back to December 2004, our predecessors noted that the priorities for the Tunisia ENP Action Plan included consolidation of democracy and rule of law reforms; development of political dialogue on democracy and human rights; and reinforcement of political dialogue and cooperation in foreign and security policy, notably in the fight against terrorism and respect for human rights.

4.13 More generally, they also observed that the sort of relationship envisaged in the European Neighbourhood Partnership process, based on "shared common values including on issues such as human rights, democratisation, counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism", must be precisely that.

4.14 The response of the Tunisian authorities to this proposal will thus be an indication of what sort of reality can be made out of the rhetoric, especially in the absence of any prospect of EU membership, and not just in the case of Tunisia. We should therefore be grateful if the Minister would let us know what the response of the Tunisian authorities is; and, when he does so, would also let us have his assessment of the extent to which commitments under the Action Plan have been fulfilled so far.

4.15 In the meantime, we shall keep the document under scrutiny.




17   http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/euromed Back

18   See (27982) 14822/06, HC 41-i (2006-07) para 15 (22 November 2006); Back

19   See (26155-60) and (26174), HC 38-ii (2004-05) para 9 (8 December 2004). Back

20   See (28120) 16371/06, HC 41-iv (2006-07) para 14 (14 December 2006). Back


 
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