A third and final stage relates to the partnership initiative that the Community began implementing in 1996 and under which Morocco and Tunisia signed new association agreements in 1995. Within EC circles the need for this initiative, while dictated by what was viewed as a mixed record for the overall Mediterranean policy so far, was made imperative by the implications stemming from the increasing vulnerability of the economic and political conditions of several neighbouring countries. This was particularly apparent and urgent in the case of those of the Maghreb. The thrust of this latest attempt, as it appears from its content, is that it goes beyond the traditional pattern of combining trade and aid, by involving other issues such as political dialogue and social and cultural cooperation which have become a standard part of the initiative. Despite its wideranging scope and its ambitious nature, however, its central pillar is and will remain the gradual establishment of a free trade area between the Community and individual Maghreb countries, along with the financial support from the EC and other sources to facilitate its materialisation. This phase may seem to illustrate a shift from a relatively favoured position towards a relationship based, albeit progressively, on quid pro quo principles with trade remaining at the centre of the whole process.