Tunisia Debate

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Lord Anderson of Swansea

Main Page: Lord Anderson of Swansea (Labour - Life peer)
Wednesday 30th November 2016

(5 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her initiative and I agree with the noble Lord on his geopolitical reflections, particularly with respect to the Russian incursions into the area.

My theme is simple: Tunisia is the one remaining success of the Arab spring and it is in our mutual interest to support its development. Surely success can be measured only in context and in comparison with neighbouring countries. Certainly, Tunisia has many problems. The suicide of that angry youth in 2011 led to the Arab spring, but for most young people the revolution has not delivered and protests have resumed. Unemployment and corruption remain, and terrorist outrages impact massively on the tourist industry and are a disincentive to investment. Development is clearly unbalanced between the coastal strip with its three main towns and the interior with its relative lack of physical and human infrastructure. No doubt Tunisia is still fragile, but compared with its neighbours it is a success.

For all Arab countries there are deep problems of nation-building derived from the Ottoman and colonial periods, and underlying cultural problems, which are outlined in those remarkable five UNDP human development reports in the 2000s. Neighbouring Algeria is marking time with limited democratic advance, Libya is still torn apart by competing militias and Egypt has undergone transition from the Islamic extremism of Morsi to the iron rule of President Sisi. Tunisia is an exception. There is a climate of questioning and debate and a spirit of compromise, illustrated by the 2014 deal between the secularists and the Islamists. Only at the end of July, its parliament peacefully dismissed its Prime Minister.

Internationally, how should we on the north bank of the Mediterranean respond? The migration threat surely shows that, if we do not go to them, they will come to us. Much is already being done by international organisations, of which we are a member, including countering terrorism, assisting in economic development and in security. Thus NATO has a reach into north Africa. EU aid amounts to over a third of Tunisia’s budget deficit, or about 1.35% of GDP. The European Union doubled aid after the revolution and has since released €300 million in EIB loans.

The question is to what extent our aid, in co-operation with our EU partners, will continue after Brexit. At least there must be full co-operation. We will still remain members of the Council of Europe, whose assembly has shown a keen interest in Tunisia and whose Venice Commission has advised on constitutional amendments. Will we be part of a more extended effort to lower tariffs and possibly open our markets more to Tunisia’s agricultural exports?

Bilaterally, with the EU and in co-operation with Tunisia, we need co-operatively to identify problems such as unbalanced development, improving the roads and helping to provide opportunities for young people. As is shown by the brief given by the ambassador, we already assist with border security. The British Council has done great work, as the noble Baroness said, with its Young Arab Voices programme to encourage a spirit of debate and questioning, and from the ambassador’s brief it seems clear that our targets are the right ones. However, although our aid has doubled, it has done so from a very small base.

My final point is that, unless Tunisia is singled out for greater help, it will be a model no longer. If we do not respond positively, the costs to us across the board will be much higher. If the jasmine revolution is to be allowed to crumble in chaos and strife, the last hope of the Arab spring will be dashed.