EU announces aid package for Tunisia
(TUNIS) - The European Union Monday announced sweeping plans to help Tunisia's interim authorities after the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, including 17 million euros in immediate aid and 258 million euros by 2013.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton told a press conference here that the EU would immediately unblock the 17 million euros ($23 million) in emergency aid and would extend 258 million euros by 2013. She did not specify whether the larger sum included the emergency aid.
"We want to both help deliver and underpin political openness, help with the democratic transition and also support economic and social development," Ashton said, according to pre-released remarks.
"I should be very clear with you that our commitment is both short-term and long-term," she said.
Beyond direct EU aid, Ashton said she had opened discussions with the European Investment Bank to mobilise up to one billion euros in financing for 2011.
Ashton's remarks amounted to the second financial windfall announced Monday for the north African country, a month after mass protests ousted Ben Ali from power.
The African Development Bank also said it was prepared to extend between $500 million and $1 billion in aid credits to Tunisia if the country's interim government spells out its priorities.
The bank will "help the country address some of the structural issues at the heart of some of the problems the country faces, in particular youth unemployment and regional irregularities," ADB President Donald Kaberuka told reporters.
The EU aid aims to help Tunis cope with mounting social and economic tensions in the wake of Ben Ali's January 14 ouster.
Beyond the financial aid, Ashton said the EU would help Tunisian Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi host an international conference on political and economic reforms in Carthage in March.
Brussels would also begin talks with the country's interim government on granting Tunisia "advanced status" for improved trade and cooperation ties, which it hopes a new parliament can ratify in six months, Ashton said.
The EU had begun talks with Ben Ali's regime on the advanced status last May but the negotiations had made little progress.
Touching on a recent hot-button issue, Ashton said the European Commission was in contact with Tunisia and Italy to resolve differences over ways to stem a massive flow of Europe-bound Tunisian immigrants.
Her visit to Tunis was followed by that of Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini who was to hold talks with Ghannouchi about some 5,000 mostly Tunisian immigrants who have washed up on Italy's tiny island of Lampedusa over the past week.
"I think that Tunisia and Italy have a common interest to curb this traffic and Italy can offer much to Tunisia," Frattini said earlier in the day, in comments carried by the ANSA news agency.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, angered the Tunis government by calling for Italian police to be sent to Tunisia to stem the exodus of asylum-seekers.
The Tunisian government had said it is "ready to cooperate" with any governments but would not tolerate interference in its internal affairs.