The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in association with the Centre for Mediterranean Integration (CMI) and the Tunisian Union for Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) organised a day of discussion under the banner of “Stimulating Growth and Investment During Transition” in Tunis on 12 December.
About 530 participants attended the event, including top policy makers and business representatives from Tunisia, central and eastern Europe and Turkey.
The event was the second in a series of discussions under the EBRD-led “Transition to Transition” initiative organised in the southern and eastern Mediterranean (SEMED) region. The “Transition to Transition” initiative aims to facilitate a “peer-to-peer” exchange of experiences between countries that have gone through a transitional process in central and eastern Europe and countries from the southern and eastern Mediterranean.
In the opening session the President of UTICA, Wided Bouchamaoui, said: “The major obstacles to transition and reform in Tunisia are the regional disparities and the high levels of unemployment faced by the youth with tertiary degrees.”
Tunisian Prime Minister Beji Caed Essebssi added: “Transition will take time and will create frustrations, and patience is needed”. He said: “Over the past year, the transitional government achieved a number of significant economic reforms; however the new government faces many political challenges such as social inclusion.”
The Tunisian Minister of Finance, Jalloul Ayed, explained: “Transition and growth must be undertaken by the private sector, through structural and legal frameworks implemented by the government rather than by monetary and foreign exchange policy”.
With 20 years of experience in central and eastern Europe in supporting economic growth and facilitating the transition process in the region, the EBRD now has a new mandate in place to support the development of economies in the southern and eastern Mediterranean region.
The EBRD's Chief Economist Erik Berglof said: “The central and eastern European countries had the incentive of working towards EU membership. Tunisia, however, will be going through transition in a more delicate global context, but Tunisia is and can have an influence on the rest of the world, considering the uprising that took root in this country and spread across the region.”
Senior eastern Europeans shared their experience of transition. Ivan Miklos, the deputy Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, quoted Madeleine Albright as referring to Slovakia as the “black hole of Europe” in the early 90s. But he said his country had achieved average economic growth of 4.8% over the last decade and had developed into the largest per-capita car producer in the world.
“Slovakia had achieved this result by making broad legal and structural reforms that created an improved business environment”, he said.
The former governor of the National Bank of Croatia, Marko Skreb, stressed the importance of income distribution in supporting the process of economic transformation. But he also said it was crucial to explain reforms to the general public.
After the opening session, there were five interactive roundtable discussions, during which experiences were shared and development challenges were discussed. The roundtable discussions focused on promoting growth and employment, modernising the agribusiness value chain, promoting renewable energies, promoting growth and employment through the development of small and medium-sized enterprises and the role of private equity investment.