By Monia Ghanmi
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe announced Wednesday (April 20th) that his country would provide 350 million euros in development assistance to Tunisia.
The announcement came during Juppe’s visit to Tunisia, where he met with interim Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi and interim President Foued Mebazaa. Juppe said that French support for Tunisia would not be restricted to financial aid and the country was also keen on providing support for advanced partner status with the European Union.
“We will always stand beside this country, which will be present with us in the G-8 summit that will be headed by France and held later next month in the city of Deauville,” he said.
However, Iadh Ben Achour, head of the Supreme Committee for Political Reform in Tunisia, said in a radio statement that the French were not very enthusiastic about their support to Tunisia. Ben Achour ascribed this to French ministers who visited Tunisia after former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was overthrown. He said they did not honour the promises they had made regarding Tunisia.
“France is trying to make it up for the stances of French government that disappointed Tunisians. I hope to put this behind us and to start a new chapter,” Juppe said.
Juppe’s trip to Tunisia came at a critical time for relations between the two countries, after the former French foreign minister made controversial statements in support of Ben Ali during the Tunisian revolution.
“I know very well that there may have been some delays or some misunderstandings between France and Tunisia. However, the most important thing is to maintain these old and deep relationships between our two countries on all political, social and economic levels,” Juppe emphasised.
He added that “France hopes to see the Tunisian revolution, which won the admiration and respect of French people after it removed an authoritarian police regime, succeed.”
Speaking about illegal immigration, Juppe told reporters that the issue was sensitive for both sides and that any solution would depend on a framework of understanding and dialogue.
“France is neither a citadel nor a fortress,” he said. “Rather, it’s open and welcomes about 200,000 immigrants every year. However, it’s not ready to receive illegal immigrants because we in France suffer from high unemployment rates among young people.”
The immigration issue has strained relations between France and Italy in recent weeks after French authorities stopped the passage of trains from Italy with hundreds of Tunisian immigrants aboard. Commenting on the incident, Juppe said that “there are no differences between France and Italy.”
“We’re neighbours and friends, and will find the necessary solutions about immigrants,” the minister said.
But France’s stance on immigration has irritated some Tunisians, with student Achref Abidi going so far as to say that the French authorities were being selfish.
“I didn’t expect that France would refuse to provide shelter for Tunisian immigrants on its soil,” Abidi said. “It is difficult to be convinced that this would pose a threat to public security in France.”