European Commission President Romano Prodi on Friday signed economic accords with Tunisia amounting to €54.5 million ($51.7 dollars), during the first leg of his North Africa tour that will take him to Morocco and Algeria.
The accords, focusing mainly on education and water resource programs, were signed by Prodi, who arrived in Tunis on Thursday, and Tunisia's Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia. Some $38 million in programs will be aimed at improving and decentralizing education, while another $3.7 million will go toward protecting water resources.
The EU wants to establish a vast free-trade zone between Europe and Mediterranean basin countries by 2010. During his trip to North Africa, Prodi also wants to encourage Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria to forge closer economic ties.
An EU official said 80 to 90 percent of exports from the three countries went to Europe while trade between them, at just four percent of exports, was derisory. "How is it possible that each of these countries makes concessions to Europe that they wouldn't make to their brothers," the official asked.
The other goal of his visit, the first to the region by a European Commission president, is to assess how well relations between the three and the EU is progressing. Tunisia and Morocco have association accords with the EU while Algeria is still negotiating an agreement.
The EU commission president is expected to sign a number of accords in Algiers, worth €30 million over four years, to improve the "professional level" of Algerian security personnel and to encourage a respect for human rights, an EU official said.
Prodi will also hold talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on the accord between the EU and Algeria, which still has to address immigration and the fight against terrorism.
He will then sign accords on health and fishing in Rabat on Saturday worth €130 million and may also meet King Mohammed VI before returning to Brussels on Monday. Talks between Brussels and Rabat over fishing rights in Moroccan waters have been blocked for more than a year. — (AFP, Tunis)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )