10 The EU and Tunisia |
|Council Decision concerning restrictive measures directed against certain persons and entities in view of the situation in Tunisia
|Legal base||Article 29 TEU; unanimity
|Department||Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Basis of consideration||EM and Minister's letter of 28 January 2011
|Previous Committee Report||None
|To be discussed in Council||31 January 2011
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
10.1 This is described below.
The draft Council Decision
10.2 The Council Decision provides a basis for the freezing
of funds and economic resources against "persons responsible
for misappropriation of Tunisian State funds, and who are thus
depriving the Tunisian people of the benefits of the sustainable
development of their economy and society and undermining the development
of democracy in the country"
The Government's view
10.3 The Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) begins his
Explanatory Memorandum of 28 January 2011 by recalling that over
the past month there has been widespread unrest in Tunisia, and
continues as follows:
"The level of unrest had been unprecedented during the entire
23 years of the former President Ben Ali's tenure. The protests
were sparked by an incident on 17 December when Mohamed Bouazizi,
an unemployed graduate, set himself aflame in protest against
a municipal guard who had allegedly assaulted him and confiscated
the vegetables he was selling from a market stall for which he
did not have a permit. This led to major protests across the country
with daily clashes between protesters and the police.
"At the time, the government responded to some
of the concerns raised by protesters but the demonstrations did
not abate. We judged at the time that the government was not at
imminent risk if they could show that they were responding to
the underlying grievances and act with restraint in handling the
demonstrations. It was clear that the demonstrations underlined
the need for Tunisia to address more determinedly human development
and human rights' issues which appeared to have prompted them.
"Following further protests, President Ben Ali
resigned on 14 January and fled the country for Saudi Arabia.
The Parliamentary Speaker Mebazza became interim President and
Ben Ali's Prime Minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, is in the process
of establish [sic] a government of national unity, including
all legal opposition parties.
"However, the security situation remains precarious,
with the army struggling to retain control. There are reports
of looting and local militias operating across the countries [sic]
and a number of prison outbreaks. Protests against the government
(still run by Ben Ali's Constitutional Democratic Rally party)
10.4 The Minister goes on to say that the new
Tunisian Government has formally requested that EU Member States
instigate an asset freeze against the former President, his wife,
family members and others, whilst investigations into the alleged
corruption of the former regime are pending; and notes that, to
date, the only EU Member State to have taken domestic action is
10.5 The Minister then describes the priorities
of the new Tunisian transition government as "to re-establish
order, to set the base for the democratisation of society and
of the political system, and to address the economic and social
problems which were at the root of the popular uprising",
going on to say that it is "of strategic importance that
the UK supports that emerging democratisation process from the
outset", and that one of the ways in which the Government
can do this is "by supporting the anti-corruption activities
of the transitional Government."
10.6 It is against this background, the Minister
says, that the EU has proposed to adopt this Council Decision:
"in order to put in place a mechanism by which
to freeze misappropriated assets. The effect of this will send
a positive message to the interim Tunisian Government of support,
whilst ensuring the uniform and consistent application of the
asset freeze across the EU. However, the asset freeze will not
enable Member States to seize any assets deemed to have been corruptly
obtained, or return them to the Tunisian State. Further action,
either through the EU, or domestically, will need to be taken
in order to put such measures in place."
10.7 The Minister also explains
- it will be necessary to adopt
an EU Council Regulation in order to give effect to the asset
- the Regulation will be directly applicable in
UK law, although domestic legislation is required for enforcement
measures, and to create penalties, in each EU Member State;
- the procedures for designating individuals subject
to the asset freeze are compliant with fundamental rights, i.e.,
individuals may only be listed where evidence exists that they
are engaged in the activities listed under Article 1 of the Council
Decision and be able to challenge their listing before the General
Court of the European Union.
10.8 The Minister concludes by stating that the
Council Decision is scheduled to be adopted at the Foreign Affairs
Council on 31 January 2011.
The Minister's letter of 28 January 2011
10.9 After repeating much of the explanation
for and the purpose of the proposed Council Decision, the Minister
"It is necessary to adopt the measures in the
Decision in order to provide a basis upon which to adopt a Council
Regulation, which will give the asset freeze its direct effect
in EU Member States.
"I regret that any delay to agreeing to freeze
these assets would risk undermining the firm statements on the
intention to support democratisation in Tunisia made by the Foreign
Secretary. It would send an unhelpful message to the new Tunisian
interim government that the international community was weakening
its stance. As a result, I will have to agree to the adoption
of this Decision before your Committee has cleared it from scrutiny.
The failure to allow your Committee to fully scrutinise the Decision
came about as a result of negotiations on the EU's response to
the emerging situation, and the necessity to positively respond
to a request from the interim Government in Tunisia requesting
that the EU put in place such restrictions on illegally obtained
10.10 Although the Minister makes no mention
of it, this proposal is part of a broader EU response. Most recently,
the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy (HR) has confirmed the EU's solidarity with the Tunisian
people in their efforts to build a stable and pluralistic democracy
with full respect for the rule of law and fundamental rights and
freedoms; expressed the EU's hope that the transitional Government
will be able to organize free and fair democratic parliamentary
and presidential elections as soon as possible; welcomed the liberation
of political prisoners; and stressed that freedom of association
and legalization of all political parties are key components for
the transition. She has also confirmed the EU's readiness to provide
its assistance and expertise for the preparation and organization
of the electoral process and political reforms, underscoring the
need to help and empower civil society and noting that the EU
will review and update its strategy and assistance. The HR also
emphasised the EU's commitment to continue economic cooperation
and the need for investors to redouble their confidence in Tunisia.
The Tunisian Foreign Minister is said to have welcomed the EU's
engagement and the offer to accompany his country's transition
towards democracy with assistance, and to have agreed to meet
the HR in the coming days.
10.11 Any decision to over-ride scrutiny
is regrettable, which the Minister acknowledges in his letter.
10.12 However, on this occasion and in the
circumstances that he describes, we accept the need for the EU
to respond as quickly as possible to the interim administration,
and therefore do not object to the action that he has taken.
10.13 We now clear the document.
28 See http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_Data/docs/pressdata/EN/foraff/118991.pdf
for full details. Back