The Impact of Arab Spring on the Relationship between Tunisia and the ENP

The Impact of Arab Spring on the Relationship between Tunisia and the ENP


Arab Spring was one of the major revolutions against imperial governments in Arabic nations that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt amongst other Arabic countries. During this time, citizens staged several public demonstrations against their government calling for liberation, change of governance, freedom amongst other issues that directly and indirectly affected them. In most Arabic countries, governments responded to the demonstration using repression and isolation of the people demonstrating against them which actually heightened the problem. This paper investigates and discusses the impacts of Arab springs on the relationship between Tunisia and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). In particular, the paper provides some sort of comparisons of successful and unsuccessful strategies, original and current state, procedural and substantive, as well as rhetoric and reality of the situation. The paper concludes by giving some policy suggestions to dealing with the impact of Arab spring as well as restoring the relationship between Tunisia and European Neighbourhood Policy.

The Impact of Arab Spring

One of the immediate impacts of Arab spring on the relationship between Tunisia and European neighbourhood nations is the creation of a new European Neighbourhood Policy document. According to Youngs (2014, p. 67), the representatives of the European Union converged shortly after the surge of Arab springs in Tunisia to propose changes in the ENP. They included representatives of the European Union for foreign affairs. They proposed a revamped European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) on March 2011 that expressed new communiqués with the affected Arabic nations. The uprising and the related events that unfolded in Tunisia had direct influence on remoulding of the policy expressing new communiqués to be adopted by the European neighbourhood. The new communications, as indicated in the revamped policy document, expressed the need for more differentiation in the relations between Tunisia and neighbouring European countries.

The idea of differentiating the relations between Tunisia and neighbouring countries was to help Arabic nations that have progressed more in establishing democracies. This was a huge shift in the ENP policy given that before the Arabic springs the relations between Tunisia and European nations was not hinged on the idea of democracy. For instance, before the onset of revolution, the European nations fully supported the regime which was not based on the principle of democracy (Gstohl & Lannon, 2015, p. 210). Tunisia and other European nations enjoyed stable relations especially with the regime government despite being undemocratic and based on monarchy system of governance. The revamped European Neighbourhood Policy expressed the need of Tunisia establishing democratically elected governance in order to continue her relations with European neighbourhoods.

The new ENP policy came up with a slogan of less for less and more for more for their relations with the affected Arabic nations. This means that the more Tunisia uphold democracy, the more they will get sup.ort from European neighbours and the less they become democratic the less they will get sup.ort from European neighbours. This was a totally new approach to the relationship between Tunisia and ENP and its key focus was on money, market access as well as mobility. Previously before the onset of revolution, Tunisia’s relation with the ENP was not based on money, mobility and market access. They had complete access to the European markets without consideration of the monarchy governance which was in place. However, the new policy demanded limited access to the European market if they do not uphold principles of democracy. In addition, they received funding from European nations without consideration of democracy.

The revamped European Neighbourhood Policy limited mobility of some Tunisian citizens as well as regime members in the neighbouring European countries (Celata & Coletti, 2015, p. 87). This was contrary to the previous relationship in which the Tunisians including regime members enjoyed free movement and access of the neighbouring European nations. The new policy specifically targeted the regime members limiting their access and mobility in the neighbouring European nations. This was specifically done to put pressure on the Ben Ali’s government to implement changes demanded by the opposition members.

The restrictions explained above had severe impacts on the relationship between Tunisia and the neighbouring European countries. First, it eliminated free access of the European market which eventually led to staggering economic growth in Tunisia. For instance, export and import volumes reduced drastically and many Tunisian companies that traded with the European countries collapsed due to loss of market access. Secondly, it reduced free movement of goods and human capital between Tunisia and the rest of neighbouring European nations. For instance, some members of the regime and opposition were banned from travelling to European countries thus straining the relations between Tunisia and ENP. Lastly, the European countries abandoned most development projects which they were undertaking in Tunisia thus leading to great economic and development downturn.

The original idea behind the revamp of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the relations was to establish democracy and the rule of law in Tunisia and other Arabic countries. Members of the European Council and the European Parliament endorsed this policy unanimously believing that by differentiating their relations with Tunisia, the country will eventually endorse principles of democracy and rule of laws in their sovereignty. However, this approach did not succeed immediately as initially planned by the ENP. Instead, it scaled up violence and demonstrations in Tunisia and worst still, it worsened the relations between Tunisian government and the neighbouring European nations (Peters, 2015, p. 135). Anti-government crusaders saw it as an opportunity to increase violence and riots so that the European nations could put more pressure on the Ben Ali’s regime to step aside which did not happen immediately.

The European Union recognized the need to extend and toiler the ENP policy to all neighbouring countries. They justified the new policy by considering that they cannot change the geography but rather deal with all the countries within its rim in democratic manner. They wanted to demonstrate that democrats are their only best friends within the circle of their friends. However, this dream was not successful as it caused several animosities between the European neighbours and the autocratic regime government in Tunisia that saw the policy as a mechanism of depriving them of their power, sovereignty as well as authority and governance. Instead, the regime formed strong opposition against the European ideology of democracy and insisted on maintaining their power and sovereignty.

Regarding money, the revamped European Neighbourhood Policy pointed towards increasing short term money inflow in Tunisia and other Arabic countries. The policy document increased short term money inflow to Tunisia in terms of aid provision which were made possible through certain budget reallocations. They availed new funds to the country to sup.ort their development projects and reform agenda. For instance, both the MENA and the EU region increased funds by 25% in the year 2012 and 2013. The policy created SPRING Programme that was aimed at promoting reform, partnership as well as inclusive growth in the region. These new instruments and programmes increased funds to Tunisia and other Arabic countries affected by the revolution. The European investment bank was then allowed to lend more money to all the MENA countries affected by the revolution in order to create stability (Haas & Lesch, 2013, p. 89).

This strategy of increasing funds was successful in Tunisia by increasing funds for the humanitarian needs and put interventions in the conflict. However, it was also considered unsuccessful since it increasingly heightened the relationship between the regimes and members of the European Union. Another failure was the inability to meet the expectations of the Marshal Plan. In essence, it the new European Neighbourhood Policy fell short of the Marshall Plan which it was meant to achieve.

The market liberalization also faced a number of challenges that prevented its immediate success. The initial plan of market liberalization as expressed in the European Neighbourhood Policy was to continue progress towards achieving free trade in the Arabic nations, especially the MENA member countries. To achieve this, the initial plan was designed to use a strategy of attacking non-tariff barriers and extending trade liberalizations especially in agricultural goods and services. According to Kourtelis (2015, p. 102), the European Union argued that democracy cannot work without trade thus enhancing trade is essential in making democracy work by achieving essential economic developments. They considered trade as essential tool and platform in advancing democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) nations.

Even though trade liberalization was a good approach, it was not successful in controlling the Arabic spring in Tunisia and other Arabic nations. For instance, the dismantling barriers in service and agriculture eventually faced strong opposition for the European Union itself. Because of these barriers, they proposed a long term prospect that required Tunisia to join the European Economic Area (EEA); however, this faced other challenges. For instance, the country (Tunisia) needed to develop strong regulatory and administrative framework before joining the EEA which actually did not exist at that time thus causing delay in implementation. Logically, Tunisia was not able to cope with “acquis communautaire” thus joining the European Economic Area could not help the country deal with the problem at hand. It was not an easy for Tunisia to develop strong administrative and regulatory structures at that time because the country was facing strong revolution from the opposition (Wetzel & Orbie, 2015, p. 110).

Another problem is that it required such countries to sacrifice their sovereignty in order to join the European internal market, which would not be politically acceptable by the MENA countries such as Tunisia. The result was an outright failure of Tunisia to join the European internal markets. Eventually the trade liberalization in Tunisia failed to achieve its initial gaols as the conflict continues. Trade liberalization was a good idea promoting democracy in Tunisia and revolution but its poor structure and implementation led to failures to liberalization trade and market.

Following the Arab spring outbreak in Tunisia, the European Union set to increase student mobility while decrease that of the regime. The European Neighbourhood Policy was designed to use Erasmus Mundus programme to increase student mobility in the region. The first mobility was signed in Tunisia allowing her citizens to easily get visas from European countries. This programme made mobility to European nations more easily for Tunisian citizens. It was accepted on the premise that it would be beneficial to all the European countries. Even though it was accepted, this policy was not based on providing solution to the Arab spring but rather that Europe is aging and it would benefit from inflow of young population from Tunisia and other MENA countries. The policy was wrongly constituted on the premise that it would benefit Europe due to her aging population which had nothing to do with providing solutions to the uprising in Tunisia.

In addition, expanding mobility in European countries faced another challenge of political acceptability. In political term, the idea was not acceptable in Europe because citizens are frightened by migration from the south and Middle East. In essence, the electorate recognizes such migrations as political threat to their nations. Subsequently the migrants were not received well in Europe as part of the society but rather perceived as threats to their development, sovereignty, and civilization.

Following intense demonstrations in Tunisia, the revamped European Neighbourhood Policy demanded freezing of assets owned by members of the regime government. In this policy document, the Europe nations agreed to freeze all assets in Europe owned by the Ben Ali’s regime to help enhance reforms, rule of law, and democracy in Tunisia. This was also done to prevent the Tunisian government from misappropriating money in autocracy and oppressing the demonstrators. However, this did not take long as later on the countries agreed to release all previously frozen assets. This means that the regime was able to get back billions of money misappropriated in European nations. In addition, freezing of assets did work successfully in controlling repressive regime in Tunisia because they had other means of accessing necessary funds for their activities (Kriesi, 2013, p. 109).

The uprising in Tunisia caused the European Union to take other drastic measures against the repressive regime which eventually impacted negatively on their relations as well as economic developments. These measures were implemented to control the government and compel them to accept principles of democracy in the land. Some of these drastic measures include travel ban on some regime dignitaries, oil embargo, arms embargo, asset freezes, commercial sanctions, financial sanctions, as well as suspension of international cooperation. Commercial and financial sanctions directly and indirectly affected the life and wellbeing of Tunisia citizens which it was meant to achieve thus negatively impacting on the economic potential of the society. Majority of the Tunisian citizens suffered from hunger and diseases due to the economic and financial sanction issued by the European nations that indirectly affected the relations between Tunisia and ENP.

According to Hullen (2015, p. 99), the European Neighbourhood Policy regarding uprising in Tunisia was not bold enough to make significant differences by providing practice solutions to the problem. As a consequence, the uprising continued and extended to other Arabic nations such as Egypt, Morocco, and Syria. In particular, the Egyptians and Syrian rioters were motivated by the success in Tunisia that managed to topple the long-time regime of President Ben Ali. It created impact in the entire Arabic nations that motivated others to revolt against their government believing that they would achieve remarkable victory like the Tunisian. While the revolt extended to other Arabic nations, the relations between government in Tunisia and other Arabic nations and European Union grew weaker as they were considered the impediment force that is motivating the revolution. The monetary allocations and market liberalization was relatively limited. On the other hand, the mobility policy faced a number of internal resistances in Europe that eventually weakened the relations between Tunisians and the ENP.

In the wake of Arab springs, the European Union saw an opportunity to extend her trade agreements with the transition countries in the MENA region. In response to relations with Tunisia, the European Union launched negotiations with the transition government for deep and comprehensive free trade agreements after the revolution. The ENP established new trade agreements with the new government that took place after the Ben Ali’s regime with the primary aim of restoring their trade agreements with members of the European Union. This move started restoring the relations between Tunisia and the ENP because the new government was ready to cooperate and accept the European trade terms. The EU extended her negotiations for free trade agreements with other MENA transition countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Libya and morocco (Huber, 2015, p. 120).

Even though the European Union has successfully pushed these transition states in the Middle East and North Africa region to accept free trade agreements, many civil society organizations in the middle east and north Africa region are still concerned about the risks involved and their relations with the ENP. In particular, many civil society organizations in these countries including Tunisia still believes that the ENP trade agreements poses risks to their countries in terms of freedom to set terms for their own policies and relations with the European neighbourhood. The Arab spring caused so many impacts on the relationship between Tunisia and the European Neighbourhood Policy some of which are not discussed in this paper.

Policy Suggestions

As a new policy suggestion, it is essential to distinguish the short term solutions from the long term solutions, and in both cases, it is essential to recognize that the European Union alone could not help improve the relations between Tunisia and her neighbouring European nations. The European Union can help in both short term and long term but it cannot succeed alone without considering the internal driving forces in the MENA region. Therefore, as a policy suggestion, the European Neighbourhood Policy should consider and include the internal factors in MENA region because they are the main driving force to maintaining stable relations between Tunisia and her neighbouring European nations.

Internal factors are the most important for the future relations between Tunisia and the ENP. Therefore, the new European Neighbourhood Policy should focus more on internal factors in establishing a lasting relationship. In addition to internal actors, the European Neighbourhood Policy should put into consideration and establish the role of state in establishing effective intergovernmental relations between Tunisia and her neighbouring European nations.

Over these years, the European Union action to maintain their relationship with Tunisia has been tool-based rather than strategy-based. This approach has not worked effectively in maintaining the relationship between Tunisia and the European Neighbourhood Policy. Instead of using tool-based approach, the European Union should use strategy-based approaches. Using strategy-based approach will allow them to display original and well-designed approaches that would significantly improve the relationship between Tunisia and her neighbouring European nations. This will allow them to have a clear vision of where they want their relations to be within the next twenty to thirty years (Maggi, 2015, p. 45).

Another policy suggestion is to redesign the international trade agreements to include obligations that bind foreign investors and the state signatory. This will not only ensure that European foreign investments serve environmental, social as well as human rights goals but also improve the relations between Tunisia and the European neighbourhoods. This policy is good because it will ensure firm commitment from participating countries. It will also ensure outstanding regulatory framework for European foreign investments in the Middle East and North Africa nations in terms of labour, social, economic and human right relations.

States (Tunisia and the European nations) should be obliged to maintain their relations by ensuring economic and financial stability. There should a policy that necessitates all states to maintain stable relations at all the time. To improve this policy, Tunisia should prevent overreliance on foreign aid and investment from neighbouring European nations. In addition, the European Neighbourhood Policy should be redesigned to include prudent approaches in relation to free flow of capital and goods between Tunisia and the neighbouring European nations.


Arab spring had severe impact on the relationship between Tunisia and the European Neighbourhood Policy; the impacts were both negative and positive. In essence, it worsened the relations between Tunisia and her neighbouring European countries. The European Union chose market liberalization and monetary policy in their relations with Tunisia and other Middle East and North Africa nations during the uprising period. Even though these measures were meant to maintain stable relations and also provide solution to the revolution, most of them never worked as was originally planned. The European Union had to change its policy and relations with the MENA several times during the transition period occasioned by Arab springs. Other essential tools and measures that were used by EU during that time include travel ban on some regime dignitaries, oil embargo, arms embargo, asset freezes, commercial sanctions, financial sanctions, as well as suspension of international cooperation. Even though the relations between Tunisia and European Neighbourhood Policy were shaky during the Arab spring, it has been improved by new measures and interventions (Willis, 2012, p. 212).


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