Federal Councillor Ignazio Cassis met Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Khemaies Jhinaoui during an official working visit to Bern. The two chief diplomats discussed international development cooperation and economic relations between Switzerland and Tunisia. The issue of migration was also addressed.
Mr Cassis received his guest at Von Wattenwyl House. The head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) and his counterpart first had a one-to-one meeting before being joined by their respective delegations. In his welcoming remarks, Mr Cassis congratulated Mr Jhinaoui on the political progress seen in Tunisia since 2011 – after the overthrow of President Ben Ali – and encouraged the Tunisian authorities to continue on this path.
At the bilateral level, Mr Cassis and Mr Jhinaoui spoke about international development cooperation and signed a declaration of intent. Switzerland has established a cooperation strategy with Tunisia, focusing on three priority areas: 1) democratic transition; 2) economic development; 3) protection and migration. For 2019, total Swiss funding (encompassing the FDFA, the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs and the State Secretariat for Migration) for Tunisia should be around CHF 20 million.
During the meeting, Mr Cassis welcomed the cooperation between Switzerland and Tunisia within the framework of their migration partnership, in particular in the areas of return assistance and reintegration. The two ministers also discussed the need to boost trade between their two countries. In addition, Mr Cassis announced the launch of a programme to support culture in North Africa, which will be implemented in collaboration with the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture.
Lastly, Mr Cassis and Mr Jhinaoui discussed the issue of the Ben Ali clan's assets which have been frozen in Switzerland since 2011. The freezing of these assets, which initially amounted to CHF 60 million, has been extended several times by Switzerland. To date, only a small proportion of the assets frozen in Switzerland has been returned to Tunisia. The head of the FDFA explained to his guest that in order to enable more significant amounts to be returned, legal proceedings in Tunisia must progress and result in judgments demonstrating the illicit origin of the assets.
In the lead-up to the parliamentary and presidential elections in Tunisia in 2019, Switzerland will once again actively engage in supporting the success of the electoral process and ensuring its continuity. In order to strengthen the participation of Tunisian citizens in public affairs, Switzerland has been supporting the organisation of elections since 2011, in particular through national electoral authorities such as the Independent High Authority for Elections (ISIE) and the High Independent Authority of the Audiovisual Commission (HAICA).Distributed by APO Group on behalf of The Federal Council, Switzerland.