"The circumstances that led to the cancellation of the state visit last November show that this path can be arduous, with many obstacles in the way. But in view of its democratic development, Tunisia is an inspiration," explained President Schneider-Ammann. "We can only express the great respect that Switzerland has for Tunisia." The visit by President Béji Caid Essebsi is an opportunity to further strengthen bilateral relations between Tunisia and Switzerland.
Accompanying President Béji Caïd Essebsi at the official discussions were Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui and Yassine Brahim, Minister of Development, Investment and International Cooperation. The Swiss delegation consisted of President Schneider-Ammann, Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter, head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga, head of the Federal Department of Justice and Police. The delegations discussed areas in which the two countries would like to work even more closely in future.
Switzerland supports Tunisia's democratisation
Tunisia's transition to democracy and Switzerland's commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law in North Africa were a key topic of discussion. As part of its bilateral cooperation efforts, Switzerland contributed a total of CHF 80 million towards Tunisia's reforms between 2011 and the end of 2015.
Switzerland gave assurances that it will continue to support the democratic process and assist with Tunisia's local elections in 2016. Tunisia is a partner country in Switzerland's cooperation strategy for North Africa, one of the aims of which is to improve prospects for poorer regions of the country and for young Tunisians.
Economic relations, migration, prevention of violence
A further important issue discussed by the delegations was bilateral economic relations, which have steadily expanded and intensified in recent years. The Federal Council welcomes the comprehensive economic reforms initiated by the Tunisian government; tangible improvements to conditions for business are the best way of attracting new investment and boosting the economy.
The migration partnership between Switzerland and Tunisia, which has existed since 2012, is deemed by both sides to be excellent. Under this partnership, it is planned to expand the exchange programme for young skilled workers.
In light of the terrorist attacks in Tunisia, other parts of the Arab world and in Europe, the delegations discussed at length the conflicts in Libya and in Syria, as well as international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Both sides expressed interest in establishing a high-level dialogue on preventing violent extremism.
A further issue addressed during the meeting was the frozen assets of former president Ben Ali and his entourage. The delegations praised the good cooperation on the matter. President Schneider-Ammann reiterated Switzerland's political will to return the assets of demonstrably unlawful origin in full in accordance with its constitutional principles. It is essentially the responsibility of the justice authorities in Tunisia and in Switzerland to carry out the required mutual assistance procedures. Switzerland has already been able to provide Tunisia with a substantial volume of evidence.
Signing of bilateral documents
Six bilateral agreements were signed on Thursday. These included an accord on bilateral political consultations and declarations of intent on closer cooperation in the fields of professional education, research and innovation, and on preventing violent extremism. The declaration of intent on the blocked assets is an indication of the progress made, and is also intended to intensify cooperation between the two countries on mutual assistance. In particular, it provides for the opening of negotiations on a mutual assistance instrument.
As is the tradition, the first day of the state visit will be rounded off with a gala dinner in Bern. The programme for the second day will be devoted primarily to economic cooperation and vocational education and training, involving talks and a round table with Swiss business representatives. The two presidents will also visit the production plant of a firm in Ostermundigen which has a subsidiary in Tunisia.
Last modification 18.02.2016