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"Mr President, we have all been watching very closely the recent events in Tunisia and more lately in Egypt. I offered concrete support, initially in the areas of electoral support; governance and transition to democracy; support for civil society and NGOs; support for the rule of law and judicial reform; economic governance and the fight against corruption; economic and social development (including support to impoverished areas in the centre and south of Tunisia). We are also ready to consider, with the Member States, mobility-related measures and increased market access. Working-level contacts are well underway on all these issues and we will continue the dialogue. I plan to travel to Tunisia the week after next. As for the Tunisian authorities’ request that the assets of Mr Ben Ali and people closely linked to his regime be frozen, we have already taken the initial steps. We accelerated procedures to allow the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday to adopt a decision on restrictive measures, with a view to imposing an assets freeze on persons under inquiry for embezzlement of state funds in Tunisia. The Tunisian authorities have communicated to us a list of persons who should be the object of these measures. As I indicated, our managing director Hugues Mingarelli travelled to the region last week. He had discussions with the preliminary government and the presidents of each of the three newly established commissions and met with civil-society representatives. I want to welcome too the European Parliament initiative to send a delegation to Tunisia. I believe it is vital that the Tunisian people see the strong support of the EU, and in particular the European Parliament, in what is a critical moment of transition towards democracy. We need to strengthen all possible people-to-people contacts and reach out to civil society, and that includes supporting NGOs, professional associations and student exchanges. We now have an opportunity to strengthen the partnership between Tunisia and the European Union on the basis of an affirmation of democracy and economic and social reform. I hope we can build on the mutual respect and trust among our respective peoples to ensure stability and a democratic and prosperous future for Tunisia. In that context I look forward to the upcoming free and democratic elections and the establishment of the new government. I have agreed with the Tunisian Foreign Minister to resume negotiations on Advanced Status shortly, with a view to their conclusion once a new democratically elected government is in place. Finally, the Foreign Minister described the atmosphere as an atmosphere of reconciliation. I hope that we will be able to work with Tunisia to move that atmosphere forward towards a new, freer democracy. I will now address the situation in Egypt. Just over one week ago we witnessed the start of an extraordinary movement there. Anti-government protests – clearly inspired by the events in Tunisia and beyond, and organised mainly through social media and word of mouth – have, I think, taken the whole world by surprise. The great strength of this popular uprising is that it is happening across Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, men and women, are taking to the streets, demanding their legitimate political and socio-economic rights. The protests have spread from Cairo to Alexandria and Suez and further across Egypt and the crowds have continued to grow in size and diversity, with protestors united in their demands for regime change and for the observance of fundamental human rights. The initially relatively peaceful protests have become increasingly violent, with the police firing teargas and rubber bullets and using water cannons. We are concerned that live ammunition may also have been used. Like all the honourable Members here, I deplore the considerable loss of life during the demonstrations and my thoughts go out to those who have lost their loved ones. The large number of injured and arrested is also a cause of great concern, and all parties have to show restraint and stop the violence. The people in both countries have voiced legitimate grievances and aspirations and they expect a proper response not only from within their countries but also from their partners, including the European Union. Their message is clear: their political systems have reached a point of no return, and change must come now. We have prepared for the Foreign Affairs Council on Monday with our conclusions calling upon the Egyptian authorities to immediately release all peaceful demonstrators who have been detained. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are fundamental human rights for everybody, which the state has a duty to protect. The imposed restrictions on media, including the Internet, are unacceptable and I urge the Egyptian authorities to restore all communication networks without delay. Through nationwide demonstrations, the Egyptian people are expressing their wish to see change. Hundreds of thousands have gathered in each rally across the country. It is of the utmost importance that these voices are listened to, now, and that the situation is addressed through urgent, concrete and decisive measures. The time has come for orderly transition and a peaceful and far-reaching transformation. The authorities must seek, and take seriously, an open dialogue with the political forces. It is important that civil society plays a crucial role in that dialogue. The Egyptian authorities must move forward quickly through a broad-based government leading to a genuine process of substantial democratic reform and paving the way for free and fair elections. We will offer our full support to an Egypt that strives for transformation to be more democratic and more pluralist. We have a shared interest in peace and prosperity in the Mediterranean and Middle East region. What we must do now is adapt and reinforce the means at our disposal to support the necessary political, economic and social reforms. Our cooperation already has democracy, human rights and the rule of law as constituent elements and we have to refocus and strengthen that work. For me, politics is about changing things: about helping people shape their own lives. Across the Arab world, we are seeing lots of potentially positive change, driven by the demands of people. As the European Union, our offer to the region and to the people is solidarity and support to put the reforms in place. We are a union of democracies – we have a democratic calling, so we will back this process of change with creativity and with determination. I take this opportunity to express my admiration for their dignity and courage and, in the light of what we are seeing now on our television screens from Egypt in particular, I call for calm and restraint and dialogue. I am going to begin by talking about Tunisia. The changes that have taken place have been remarkable and have paved the way for more democratic development of the country. Despite many challenges, we can already see the positive developments in Tunisia, where efforts have been made to meet the demands of the population. The transitional government has taken some important steps, in particular by freeing political prisoners and allowing freedom of expression, as well as prosecuting members of former President Ben Ali’s family for corruption. Furthermore, three independent commissions have been set up and have begun their work: the Commission for inquiry into corruption and misuse of public funds; the Commission for inquiry into abuses during the repression in the course of the latest events; and the High Commission for Political Reform. I have taken note too of the most recent government reshuffle in response to popular demand. The government has received the support of the main opposition parties and the main trade union – the Tunisian General Labour Union. Peace and stability is important to allow Tunisia to put in place democratic and transparent elections and effect vital political, economic and social changes. The European Union is there to support the country and its people at this difficult moment of transition, and we have responded immediately – not in order to impose our views or ideas, but to offer our help and to work together. I spoke last week with the new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ounaies, following his appointment, and we met together today in Brussels. We had a substantial discussion here – the first place that he has visited since taking office – on the best way for the European Union to support the transition and assist the Tunisian people. He confirmed today the request for support from the EU in the preparatory phase of the elections and in the observation of future elections. We are about to dispatch an experts’ mission to Tunisia to assess the electoral legislation and provide legal advice to the transition authorities on it, and last week EEAS managing director Hugues Mingarelli was on the ground in Tunisia discussing people’s needs with them. As for other forms of assistance, we have increased the allocation for cooperation with civil society. This will be combined with a reorientation of our assistance programmes to help the people more directly. Liberal policies alone cannot bring the needed economic and social welfare and wealth distribution for all the Tunisian people. So we are going to review with Tunisia our priorities, to take account of the new situation and adapt our assistance to their social needs. Today the Minister conveyed to me details of the concerns that they have and the plans that they have, so that we will be able to respond, together with other international partners."@en1

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