Tunisia Country in transition
Despite this promising start, Tunisia – which was regarded as a beacon of hope in Northern Africa – has to contend with political instability, social inequalities and a severe economic crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic led to a serious economic downturn (by 8.8 per cent) in 2020 and highlighted the fact that much needed structural reforms had been delayed.
Power struggles within the government, frequent changes of government, a fragmented party political landscape and widespread corruption had all played a part in stalling the reform process. The living conditions of ordinary Tunisians have barely improved since the political changes that took place ten years ago. The hoped for "democracy dividend" did not materialise. Discontent over this finds expression in frequent strikes and sometimes violent protests.
In late July 2021, State President Kais Saied used the nationwide protests about government policies and its management of the COVID-19 crisis as an opportunity to take over the running of the government, dismiss the prime minister and the cabinet and freeze parliament – initially for a period of 30 days. Since then, Tunisia has been at a crossroads. Now the time has come to safeguard the democratic achievements made so far, place the country on a solid basis in both economic and financial policy terms, and effectively contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
German development cooperation with Tunisia
Germany has a vested interest in seeing a region that is so close to Europe become stable again. Tunisia is an important strategic partner in realising that goal. That is why the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) significantly increased its support for Tunisia following the latter's political turnaround in 2010/2011. In 2020, the BMZ newly committed an amount of 190.4 million euros.
The overarching framework for Germany's involvement in Tunisia is the reform partnership under the Marshall Plan with Africa. The partnership was concluded in 2017 and is a bilateral contribution to the G20 Compact with Africa initiative; it provides support for reforms in the financial and banking sector and in public administration. It is planned to extend the partnership to cover all areas agreed under development cooperation agreements.
Cooperation in four core areas
As part of the BMZ 2030 reform agenda, Germany's development cooperation with Tunisia is undergoing a strategic re-orientation. Germany wants to agree with its Tunisian partners that cooperation in the next few years will focus on the following core areas:
- Training and sustainable growth for decent jobs
(Areas of intervention: vocational education and training, private sector and financial sector development)
- Peaceful and inclusive societies
(Area of intervention: good governance)
- Responsibility for our planet – climate and energy
(Area of intervention: renewable energy and energy efficiency)
- Protecting life on Earth – the environment and natural resources
(Area of intervention: water)
Promotion of employment is a cross-cutting issue of development cooperation. Projects in these areas are being promoted especially in structurally weak regions further inland, in order to create opportunities for people there and thus prevent irregular migration.
Emergency COVID-19 Support Programme
Tunisia has been badly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. While the country came through the first wave of infections in spring 2020 rather well by imposing severe restrictions, the number of infections started to rise rapidly from the summer of 2020 onwards. By spring 2021, Tunisia's health care system was severely overstretched.
The BMZ worked with the country's authorities to put together an Emergency COVID-19 Support Programme for Tunisia. By redirecting funds and allocating additional budget funds, the BMZ was able to make available 43 million euros to help tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds were used to procure items such as medical hygiene products and emergency generators and ventilators for hospitals. The emergency support programme also helped to fund social transfers for needy families and the vaccination campaign.