The next “open skies” agreement with the EU is an important reform that is expected to significantly increase the number of visitors. The agreement has been under preparation for several years due to the opening at the end of November 2015 of a six-month round of negotiations on the gradual liberalisation of air transport between Tunisia and the EU. The open skies consist of the opening of Tunisian airspace and national airports to the planes of the various European airlines at first. In a second phase, aircraft from other international airlines will be affected by this agreement. “This far-reaching agreement will improve market access and contribute to the highest safety and environmental standards,” said Violeta Bulc, European Commission Transport Commissioner, at the signing of the agreement in December. “This is good news for tourism, passengers and businesses.” As part of the process of creating a wider common airspace with its eastern and southern neighbours, the EU negotiated with Tunisia a comprehensive Euro-Mediterranean agreement signed on 11 December 2017. This comprehensive agreement will lead to an increase in the number of direct flights and stimulate trade and tourism flows between the EU and Tunisia. In addition to opening up the market, the agreement also provides a modern framework and high standards for all aviation-related issues, such as safety, air passenger rights, air traffic management, economic regulation, competition or social aspects. “The ratification and signing procedures are currently under way on both sides,” EU sources told The Arab Weekly, “but as the procedure on the EU side is quite long, it has been agreed to apply the agreement on an interim basis as soon as Tunisia`s ratification is completed.” This agreement applies to all Tunisian airports open to international traffic, with the exception of Von Tunis-Carthage, which will not be affected for 5 years in order to protect the national airline Tunisair. Fearing competition, Tunisair`s chief executive seems more concerned about the deal, which he says will “cause serious damage” and “pose a danger to Tunisair.” René Trabelsi announced in November 2019 that the “open skies” contract would be signed by the end of February 2020 at the latest. He said the agreement would allow the national airline Tunisair to improve the quality of its services.
At the end of a hearing of the Committee of Tunisians Abroad in the House of People`s Representatives (HPR) in the presence of Tunisair CEO Elyes Mnakbi, Trabelsi added that “Tunisia is ready for this opening and that the national company has no problem with it”. Tourism officials, encouraged by the success of a similar agreement signed by Morocco and the European Union in 2006, say the Tunisia-EU deal could boost Tunisia`s GDP by 2.7% and increase passenger levels by 800,000 passengers in five years. Studies have shown that the open skies promote growth of between 2 and 3% of GDP, job creation and visibility of the Tunisian destination, especially since some European countries do not know Tunisia. By the end of 2019, Tunisia seemed to break a record by welcoming nine million tourists in a single year.