Members of European Parliament call for stronger solidarity with Tunisia

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BRUSSELS: Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) on Tuesday called for unconditional solidarity with the Tunisian people, more support for civil society, and strong EU assistance in dealing with the many challenges of Tunisia's transition to democracy.

The first-hand report following the first European Parliament delegation visit to Tunisia, from February 3 to 6, also listed the key challenges facing Tunisia at a joint meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Human Rights Sub-committee on Monday.

"First, economic and financial crisis, plus a tourism crisis which will most likely create a debt crisis too," delegation co-chair Pier Antonio Panzeri stated.

"Second, the safety and security of persons, structures and institutions, and also of the economic productive system. Third, the challenge of creating the democratic process, including the reform of the electoral system, of the judiciary, establishing a free press and the very idea of freedom in general," Panzeri added.

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network President Kamel Jendoubi called on the EU and EU Member States, as well as other states, saying that the "people want is that the voices who supported the regime are removed from power."

Jendoubi also added that while the EU should support the transitional government, it should not give it a blank cheque. Furthermore, he said that the "Facebook generation" would not allow totalitarianism from the supposed Islamist threat.

Jendoubi insisted that one of the most urgent needs is to put in place projects which would incorporate young people in political life, while Heidi Hautala also called for gender equality and a heightened role for women in the new Tunisia.

In addition, Panzeri underlined that Tunisian civil society had taken on its shoulders all the efforts in confronting the regime of Ben Ali. "Now it is time to set up political parties," he said, "as they are the cornerstone of the political process of democratization."

MEPs also welcomed the Tunis provisional government's invitation to the EU to send an election observation mission, mentioning a possible long-term follow up of the development of the conditions for "free and fair elections."

They urged that a donors' conference dedicated to Tunisia be convened in order to offer targeted support  where the risk of deep social tensions remains high as an estimated 40 to 50 percent of youth remain unemployed with a visible economic downturn (tourism revenues recently dropped by 40 percent).

Finally, regarding the planned EU assistance package being currently prepared by the External Action Service and to be presented to the Tunisian side by Foreign Affairs High Representative Catherine Ashton during her upcoming visit to Tunisia, Hautala requested access to this document and suggested that Tunisia to be part of the list of pilot countries included in the revision of EU financial instrument for the promotion of democracy and human rights.

(BNO NEWS )

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