Tunis, Tunisia – Conservatives and Reformists, the third largest parliamentary group in the European parliament, kicks off a two-day summit in Tunis on Friday aimed at deepening engagement between centre-right parties, with whom it shares a number of common viewpoints on European-related issues.
The summit brings together some 200 parliamentarians, party leaders, ministers, academics and policy experts, as well as at least 30 mainstream centre-right parties from around the world.
The participants will explore ways of seeking solutions to such challenges as democratic transitions, global security threats, as well as economic growth and prosperity.
According to organisers and participants, the event will also focus on advancing the values and capacities of centre-right political parties in Muslim-majority countries, as well as strengthening emerging democracies after the post-2011 Arab uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.
However, the initiative has been ridiculed by Tunisian leftist parties, which described the meeting as no more than a family reunion of centre-right parties with no substance to report.
“The fact that European parliamentarians are the organisers of the summit is in itself a disappointment for me,” Fathi Chamkhi, a member of the Popular Front, a Tunisian political alliance made up of nine leftist political parties, told Al Jazeera.
“This kind of neocolonialism where we are constantly treated as minors is never ending. When Europeans continue to come up with their ‘Euro-med’ paternalistic politics meant for the south of the Mediterranean, we should understand that it is a kind of dictatorship that we should rid ourselves from,” he said.
Organisers say their choice of Tunisia as the venue for the summit was meant to show support for its fight against “terrorism” and to applaud its revolution model.
“Tunisia is a success story in a region that currently needs success stories. Here, at least, few people regret the Arab Spring. Some neighbouring countries have replaced one autocratic regime with another; others have collapsed into lawlessness. But Tunisia is arguably happier, wealthier and freer than at any time in its history,” Daniel Hannan, secretary-general of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists said in a statement.
“We on the centre-right face a different challenge. We need to address the tendency of some of those who suffered repression under the dictators to over-compensate, to retreat into an authoritarianism of their own. We need to build a space where devout voters can comfortably support parties that don’t question the pluralist nature of the state,” Hannan said.
“The parties gathered here for the Conservatives and Reformists Summit share a belief in personal autonomy, national sovereignty, open markets, free competition, inherited tradition, sound money, low taxes and parliamentary supremacy. Those principles work wherever they are applied. God knows we need them on both sides of the Mediterranean,” he added.
Calling itself the new force in European politics, the group said it would try, along with other centre-right parties, to lend a helping hand to countries in the region to face what they call the common challenges in an interdependent world.
The pledge, according to Chamkhi, is manipulative and intended to fool the Tunisian people.
“Using words like ‘reformism’, the summit organisers are trying to convince people that they will restructure the system and amend it, while it is totally the opposite. Reformism is a very delusional word that has been hijacked already by [the pre-2011] Ben Ali regime with his famous slogan of change. Reformism during his reign meant more room for corruption,” Chamkhi said.