Ghazi BEN AHMED is leading the Mediterranean Initiative of the CTR Johns Hopkins SAIS in Tunisia. He set up the MENA Partnership for Democracy and Development based in Tunis with the objective to promote democracy and help NGOs. He is the founder and the Secretary General of the Club de Tunis, a Tunisian based foundation aiming to help policymakers and entrepreneurs to devise strategies and development projects for inclusive growth, job creation, regional development and higher living standards. Ghazi Ben Ahmed is the LEND (Leaders Engaged in New Democracies) Coordinator for Tunisia. He has also worked for almost 10 years in the European Commission in Brussels.
- 1.What is for you the added value of Europeans in supporting democratisation processes? What role can they play?
First of all, the role of Europeans, especially those who went through a similar experience in Southern European or Central-Eastern European countries, is to share their experience. Countries undergoing democratisation processes urgently need experience and knowledge sharing, so to expedite the process. Through these discussions we can learn from the success and failures of others and prepare to avoid mistakes.
This is exactly the spirit of the LEND Initiative (Leaders Engaged in New Democracies); a virtual network which provides a global forum for exchanging information and expertise on democratisation support.
Non-financial assistance therefore, including experience sharing, technical assistance, more meetings and business contacts as well as networking is crucial, because the more we talk the more we bridge our differences.
However there is also another dimension to the EU’s role; a financial one. The economic situation in Tunisia is very critical, with almost all the ingredients that led to the revolution still present or even deteriorating. Massive unemployment, regional disparities, weak economic growth, inflation and a budget deficit are still prevalent and many reforms need to be implemented, which will be very unpopular and painful.
Therefore, we need massive aid from the EU during this transitional process and to succeed in the coming elections. We know that the EU can do it, as was the case for Ukraine. We know this is possible. Not only because we are direct neighbours but also this has direct impact on all kinds of communalities, such as terrorism and migration. We have to take these issues into account.
2. What do you think about the sustainability and effectiveness of EU programmes and projects?
When compared with the pre-accession countries, the main problem for Tunisia and the Southern Mediterranean countries is that we don’t have the major carrot: accession to the EU. I believe that we need another motivation, an incentive to reform and to go forward. When you knew that the CEECs were to be new members of the EU, attracting investment was a much easier task. So you had all the German, French and Italian capital going there and investing heavily. This is not the case in Tunisia. We need to define a new and clear vision as the relationship between the EU and Tunisia strengthens.
There is also substantial criticism about the ENP. Our opinion is that we should have a package of innovative tools that address correctly the post-revolution countries in the Southern Mediterranean. This is very important because these tools will have to be adapted to these countries, as they don’t have a membership perspective. You cannot treat Tunisia and Morocco the same. Tunisia has gone through a revolution and deserves much more. If you are genuine about the “more for more” approach and you are truly encouraging democracy in Tunisia, you really have to give this premium.
3. As a practitioner, could you give us an example of how you have been able to make a difference in democratisation processes?
The biggest divide in the post-revolution period was the confrontation between seculars and Islamists. As Club de Tunis, in collaboration with MDI (Mediterranean Development Initiative) and LEND we established a set-up of parliamentarians from different political parties within the National Constituent Assembly to try and build consensus and trust. We have set up a working group, which gathers and discusses issues such as how to bridge differences and how to take into account the lessons of others. We contributed to consensus building, bringing respectively a delegation of Swedish parliamentarians and Portuguese officials in order to discuss their experience.
It’s important to share knowledge and experience to try to alleviate the concern that people may have. In post-conflict situations the debate often becomes very emotional. When it becomes emotional, it’s not rational.
With the LEND Initiative and the Community of Democracies, we also brought experts from the Community of Democracies to discuss with key political actors in Tunisia and try to help them bridge their differences.
4. Would you agree that Tunisia should have a membership perspective in the long term?
I would rather go for the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and join Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland. I am in favour of what Romano Prodi called, “everything but institutions”. For Tunisia, it would give a very clear vision because everything but institutions means the four fundamental freedoms, which are very dear to us: free movement of capital, labour, services and goods. It would be a very strong incentive as a mid to long-term objective.
I do expect from the new Commission and the Italian Presidency to come out with innovative ideas and to revise the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which suffers from a lack of strategic and bold vision. I’ve also mentioned in one article that we should have a DG Mediterranean. It will give more seriousness to the EU policy in the neighbourhood. There is reason for hope with the new commission and incoming High Representative Federica Mogherini. I stand ready to cooperate closely with her on issues pertaining to Mediterranean neighbourhood policies.