Tunisia’s popular uprising has not only shaken the regime but also international diplomacy, notably that of the EU, which, for more than two decades, did not hesitate to consider ex-president Ben Ali a strategic ally, a special trading partner and even a personal friend.
Professor Alvaro de Vasconcelos, Director of the Institute of EU Security Studies, told euronews how he views the bloc’s policy towards the Ben Ali regime.
euronews: Mr de Vasconcelos, don’t the events in Tunisia reveal, in a certain way, an EU Neighbourhood policy that is too tolerant of the lack of respect for human rights?
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: I would say yes. And I would say more, that the EU was not only tolerant, as it supported authoritarian regimes, fearful that democratic transformation of the countries could bring Islamist parties to power. That means that the EU preferred the status quo. It preferred what it called stability, to the possibility of change. Events in Tunisia show that this policy was misguided, as several experts had warned earlier. But events in Tunisia show that there are alternatives to authoritarian regimes, which don’t need to go through radical Islam. They are democratic political forces, civil society and, in Tunisia’s case, they are also trade unions, opposition political parties, lay people, others who are closer to Islamist movements but moderate and democratic Islamist movements.
euronews: Several European countries have decided to freeze the ex-Tunisian president’s assets and bank accounts. France has blocked a shipment of anti-riot equipment for the Tunisian police. Couldn’t this type of sanctions have been imposed before the fall of the president?
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: Surely some measures could have been taken before, because the European Union has always considered that “political conditions” were an important element of its cooperation with other countries. The EU’s Mediterranean policy, whether the neighbourhood policy or Euro-Mediterranean policy and all the policies with its southern neighbours, has political conditions as an element – associated with the respect of human rights and democracy – and it should be applied in a more coherent and consistent way.
euronews: How can or how should events in Tunisia change the EU’s relations with North African and Middle Eastern countries?
Alvaro de Vasconcelos: It is important to abandon a model which is based on the idea that economic development is going to lead to stability, not to democracy, but to stability. And we should move towards giving equal importance to the need for economic reforms, support for economic development and support for political reforms, while still making EU support conditional on significant progress in the area of political reforms and human rights. And the EU must quickly declare its support for Tunisia’s democratic transformation, this, also, from an economic and financial point of view.
euronews: Thank you for your insight Professor Alvaro de Vasconcelos, Director of the Institute of EU Security Studies – speaking as Brussels prepares to freeze Ben Ali’s assets until the end of the month.
Professor Alvaro de Vasconcelos on Tunisia: "the EU preferred the status quo"