The second leg of Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s four‑day trip to the Maghred took him to Tunisia on 23 and 24 January. On Friday evening he met the country’s new democratically elected President, Béji Caid Essebsi. He also had an opportunity to have talks with the Speaker of the Tunisian Parliament, Mohamed Ennaceur, as well as with the new Prime Minister-designate, Habib Essid.
“Sometimes difficult but so important” path of reform
That afternoon, Steinmeier had had talks with the caretaker Foreign Minister, Secretary of State Fayçal Gouia, and subsequently held a joint press conference with him. Steinmeier told Gouia of his great respect for Tunisia’s “sometimes difficult but so important” democratic path. Since the revolution of 14 January 2011, Tunisia has been undergoing an important phase of democratic transformation, which was concluded with the successful election of the President. The German Government is supporting the country during its transformation into a democracy by way of a transformation partnership.
Another issue discussed during the talks was the further development of bilateral relations. Foreign Minister Steinmeier was accompanied by a high‑level delegation comprising representatives of the business community and the cultural scene. An event in the afternoon hosted jointly by the Tunisian employers’ association UTICA and the German‑Tunisian Chamber of Commerce addressed the exchange among business people, investment promotion and the prospects for further economic cooperation.
Shared threat of Islamist terrorism
The talks in North Africa also took place in the shadow of the attacks on the French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” on 7 January: effective cooperation to combat terrorism and extremism was therefore also discussed in Tunisia, as it had been in Morocco and Algeria. Foreign Minister Steinmeier pledged his Tunisian counterpart Gouia further support and cooperation in the security sphere, for example border control. Moreover, he pointed out that Islamist terrorism is a shared threat and stated:
There have been victims of Islamist terrorism on both sides of the Mediterranean. We will not allow terrorists to divide us.
The Minister also met representatives of the cultural scene and civil society during his trip. For example, his engagements included a visit to the major exhibition being held to mark the centenary of the visit to Tunis by the painters Paul Klee, August Macke and Louis Moilliet, which is taking place at the city’s Bardo Museum. It brings together around 30 works by the three painters from their journey through Tunisia in 1914 for the first time and it was made possible by German funding.
Beware of easy answers
On Saturday (24 January), Foreign Minister Steinmeier then visited El Manar University. Before several hundred students, he stressed his firm conviction that we must be wary of simple answers to the difficult issues of our time. Steinmeier addressed the young people’s employment prospects and life chances, the development of the democratic system and an active civil society, as well as security and terrorism. He finished by encouraging the students to seek difficult answers: “For so much in this world depends on you succeeding in this quest”.
His visit ended with the formal presentation of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany to caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaâ. Steinmeier praised his personal commitment to Tunisia’s reform process as well as to German‑Tunisian relations.
Expanding bilateral relations with the states of North Africa
The visit to Tunisia was part of Foreign Minister Steinmeier’s four‑day trip to North Africa. Ahead of his talks in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, Steinmeier stated (on 21 January): “The countries of North Africa are important partners for Germany and Europe – with regard to economic and energy policy as well as all matters of stability and security on both sides of the Mediterranean.” The aim of his trip, he added, was therefore to gain a first‑hand impression of “where the societies of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria currently stand – politically, economically and culturally”. Steinmeier was in Algeria on Saturday (24 January) and Sunday (25 January).