Illustré par :

At the end of the international conference on investment, held in Tunis on November 29 and 30, the French and Belgian governments announced the conversion of part of their claims on Tunisia in investment projects, respectively involving amounts of one billion and three million euros. For the CADTM, these debt conversions represent a poisoned gift. 

If the conversion of part of the Tunisian debt into investments is decided according to criteria of profitability for French and Belgian companies and not according to the needs of the Tunisian population, they are above all comparable to the laundering of a debt that is largely odious — because it was amassed under the authoritarian regime of Ben Ali — and which deserves to be purely and simply cancelled In addition, cooperation between Belgium and Tunisia in the management of migration flows was announced at the same time as this debt swap, suggesting that these two measures were linked. 

On February 1, 2017, during a parliamentary question session, the Belgian government, through its Minister of Finance, Johan Van Overtveldt, clarified certain elements related to this debt conversion. The government has also pronounced on the resolution adopted by the Belgian Senate in July 2011, which remained a dead letter while it called for a moratorium on the repayment of Belgian claims on Tunisia, an audit of these claims and the cancellation of those that would be deemed odious. In this regard, the government’s position is appalling. He indicates that the resolution of the Belgian Senate has not been implemented because  » the Paris Club (club of the 20 largest creditors) and international financial institutions believe that Tunisia is capable of repaying its debts » ; he adds secondly that the Tunisian authorities have not requested this. 

However, it is the recognition of the odious nature of the debt contracted by Ben Ali that is interesting in this parliamentary resolution and which should legitimately lead to a cancellation of the debts owed to Tunisia. Moreover, the Paris Club is an informal body and Belgium is under no obligation to respect its guidelines. If successive Tunisian governments since the revolution have not called for meaningful measures to address the burden of odious debt, it is for the same reasons that they have not adopted policies different from those applied by Ben Ali and that would break with the liberal diktats of the international financial institutions and the governments of the Western powers, against which the Tunisian people revolted in 2011. 

As for the sustainability of the debt, let us recall that the IMF formulated, between 2010 and 2015, largely optimistic estimates on the Greek public debt, constantly contradicted as the crisis deepened in the country due to the harmful interventions of the Troika, of which the institution headed by Christine Lagarde is one of the pillars. In fact, recent developments in Tunisia’s public finances indicate that its debt is unsustainable: while the 2016 budget law foresaw a debt ratio of 53.2% of GDP, this has finally risen to 62.1%, while the country is in danger of defaulting on a loan from Qatar to the tune of 500 million dollars. The evolution of the Tunisian debt since 2011 shows that it is constantly rising and that its repayment is used by successive governments to legitimize austerity, preventing spending in key sectors such as health, education and housing. 

The Belgian Minister of Finance also argues that the debt held by Belgium towards Tunisia would not be odious because « More than half of this debt, about 15 million euros, is financed by a state loan of June 25, 2006, which was used to finance the rehabilitation of the Bay of Sfax. Rather, the credits provided by Belgium helped maintain Ben Ali’s authoritarian regime by legitimizing it and allowing it to release further funds for repression against the population. The June 2006 loan was granted to a regime that has no regard for democracy or basic human rights and must therefore be considered odious. 

The Belgian government not only wants to launder an odious debt by converting it into investment projects, but also makes this measure conditional on « the organization of a return policy for migrants ». For the CADTM, this is an unacceptable measure. We reaffirm our support for freedom of movement and settlement for all without discrimination. 

Finally, the government has announced that the interest due on the principal of the converted debts will be included in Belgium’s official development assistance (ODA). This is simply an artificial increase in ODA through a simple accounting exercise. More broadly, the CADTM calls for an end to policies that lock Tunisia into a relationship of dependence on the countries of the North in general and on France, Belgium and the European Union in particular. In Belgium, two initial steps in this direction would be the implementation of the Senate resolution adopted in July 2011 and the support of the authorities for the bill tabled in the Tunisian parliament in June 2016 calling for the establishment of an audit commission on the Tunisian public debt and a suspension of debt payments until this commission delivers its results. 

Robin Delobel

Espace membre

Member area