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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 June 2018

France's Macron pledges to double investment in Tunisia

The French president's visit comes less than a month after protests erupted in towns and cities across Tunisia, triggered by price and tax hikes

France's president Emmanuel Macron meets with members of Tunisia's French community in Tunis on February 1, 2018. Eric Feferberg / AFP
France's president Emmanuel Macron meets with members of Tunisia's French community in Tunis on February 1, 2018. Eric Feferberg / AFP

France's president Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday he would push to double French investment in Tunisia over five years to help support its faltering economy and transition to democracy.

In a speech to parliament in Tunis, Mr Macron paid lengthy tribute to Tunisia's 2011 revolution — which sparked uprisings and protests across the region — and to its efforts to build a democratic system, saying they remained an example for a troubled region.

"The challenge which is yours today is to transform this cultural and democratic spring into a political, economic and social spring" that benefits all social classes, he said.

Mr Macron's visit comes less than a month after protests erupted in towns and cities across Tunisia, triggered by price and tax hikes.

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Although Tunisia has won praise for political compromises and a 2014 democratic constitution, successive governments have failed to resolve deep economic and social problems, including high youth unemployment and marginalisation in the country's interior.

Activists also say some democratic freedoms appear to have been eroded, criticising mass arrests carried out during the recent demonstrations.

As Mr Macron visited, protesters calling for jobs brought all production in the country's declining phosphate industry to a halt by staging sit-ins at plants, an official said.

The French president told MPs they had a "vast responsibility" to ensure that "nothing that has been undertaken in the last few years is weakened or overturned".

Holding delayed local elections, fighting corruption and reforming public services were all crucial to bolster democracy, he added.

"The Arab world, the Maghreb, all the shores of the Mediterranean are watching you. They are watching you work and they need to see you succeed."

To support job creation, France aimed to double the rate of private sector investment over the five years of Mr Macron's term, which ends in 2022.

"A number of companies have already confirmed their willingness to invest," the president said, without naming any.

French direct investment in Tunisia was worth 3.3 billion dinars (Dh5.1bn) in 2016, making it the second biggest foreign investor behind the UAE, according to figures from the French economy ministry.

Mr Macron had pledged more than 270 million euros (Dh1.2bn) in new financing for Tunisia on Wednesday, as he began his two-day visit to the country.

In his speech to parliament, Mr Macron also said France would put all its energy into finding a solution to the conflict in neighbouring Libya and would push for elections to be held there by the end of the year.