Germany and Tunisia have had diplomatic relations since the latter gained independence in 1956. The German Government has been supporting Tunisia’s political and economic transformation through intensive cooperation since the democratisation process began in 2011. The two Governments have established a wide-ranging transformation partnership and a regular political dialogue at State Secretary level. The last such dialogue meeting took place in Berlin in 2018, and the next meeting at this level is scheduled for 2020 in Tunis.
Numerous political visits testify to Germany’s good and intensive relations with Tunisia since the democratisation process began. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel most recently visited Tunis in 2017, where she held talks with President Mohamed Beji Caid Essebsi and Prime Minister Youssef Chahed and gave a speech to the Tunisian Parliament. Prime Minister Chahed had previously visited Berlin. Germany’s then Federal President Joachim Gauck made an official visit to Tunisia in 2015. President Essebsi attended the G7 Summit in Elmau in 2015 as a special guest and took part in the G20 Africa Partnership conference in Hamburg in 2017. The following year, he met Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel on the margins of the Africa summit in Berlin. Many meetings have also taken place at ministerial level.
With the aim of consolidating the country’s democratic political culture, the German Bundestag’s engagement includes organising a regular exchange of visits at the political level, providing advice and support to Tunisia’s parliamentary administration, and conducting the International Parliamentary Scholarships (IPS) programme. All six German political foundations have their own office in Tunis, and in cooperation with various Tunisian partners are conducting advisory and dialogue projects to promote democracy, the rule of law, administrative reform, the market economy, social dialogue, critical scientific research, the media and civil society. Among the German Länder, the Free State of Bavaria in particular maintains close relations with Tunisia on the basis of the Land partnership of 2012 and the Joint Action Plan 2015‑2018.
Since the Tunisian revolution, the close economic relations between Germany and Tunisia have been intensified. Among the EU Member States, Germany is Tunisia’s third-largest trading partner and foreign investor, after France and Italy. According to figures from the German-Tunisian Chamber of Industry and Commerce, some 260 mostly export-oriented German companies are currently active in Tunisia. They employ a total local workforce of 60,000 and have invested more than 350 million euros in the country.
Germany’s main exports to Tunisia are textiles (semi-finished products), electronic goods, machinery, motor vehicles, chemical products, food-industry products, iron and iron goods. Its main imports from Tunisia are finished textile products, electrical components, car parts (especially wiring), leather goods, crude oil, food-industry products, fuels, lubricating oils and carpets.
Tunisia is the most important target country in the transformation partnerships, which were launched in 2012 and have proven to be an effective foreign-policy instrument. The transformation partnership has made it possible to share expertise rapidly, competently and flexibly with reform processes and initiatives by Tunisian civil society via a large number of projects and to boost Germany’s political engagement in the country. Since 2014, the focus has been on supporting the state and society in implementing the progressive constitution of 2014, which includes a large part of the demands by various stakeholders involved in the revolution. The main aims of the funded projects are to promote democracy and the rule of law and to strengthen civil society and good governance. In 2019, funding of seven million euros will be provided to regional projects with components in Tunisia. Furthermore, bilateral projects are being carried out at a cost of five million euros by organisations such as the United Nations, international NGOs, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH and intermediary organisations active in cultural relations and education policy.
Germany is also one of Tunisia’s principal bilateral partners in development cooperation. As a result of the revolution, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development has intensified and substantially increased its work with Tunisia, providing funding of approximately 240 million euros in 2018 and thus increasing the total volume of ongoing projects in bilateral governmental development cooperation in Tunisia to 1.8 billion euros. The focus of this cooperation is on sustainable economic development/training, decentralisation/administrative reform and resource protection (water and energy). Promoting employment is an overarching topic in all of these priority areas. This is particularly important for the structurally disadvantaged regions in the hinterland in order to create opportunities in Tunisia and mitigate the root causes of migration.
The Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development supports Tunisia’s development goals, while urging the country to undertake reforms. The reform partnership agreed with Tunisia in 2017 in the financial and banking sector is crucial in this regard. The partnership comprises Germany’s bilateral contribution to the G20 initiative, Compact with Africa. Its aim is to improve the environment for private-sector investment and to create employment. Talks with Tunisian partners are currently taking place, with the aim of extending the reform partnership to the field of good governance. Intergovernmental consultations and negotiations are held each year with Tunisia. The next talks with the Tunisian Government are scheduled for April 2019.
Culture and education
The scholarships awarded by the German Academic Exchange Service, German language courses and cultural events form the heart of German-Tunisian cultural cooperation. The Goethe-Institut has been operating in Tunis for just under 60 years.
Almost 40,000 students at 400 schools in Tunisia are learning German as a foreign language. In spring 2014, the Goethe-Institut signed an agreement with the Tunisian Ministry of Education to promote the teaching of German. The agreement covers further training measures and the provision of teaching materials and consulting services. The Goethe-Institut also oversees five of Tunisian schools in the Federal Foreign Office’s Schools: Partners for the Future initiative. The sixth such school offers the German Language Certificate and is overseen by the Federal Office of Administration – Central Agency for Schools Abroad. The German Academic Exchange Service has four lectors/language assistants working at three universities in Tunis and Gabès to promote German studies. Radio Tunis Chaîne Internationale (RTCI) has been broadcasting a daily one‑hour programme in German since June 1992. The Rome Department of the German Archaeological Institute has earned great respect over the past four decades for its excavations at Carthage and Chimtou. Finds from the Mahdia shipwreck, which were restored in Germany, have been on display at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis since 2000. In recent years, the German Archaeological Institute has conducted major cultural preservation projects in Chimtou (Roman imperial cult temple) and Carthage with Federal Foreign Office funding.