TUNIS - Tunisia is ready to launch a long-awaited "Open Skies" agreement with Europe to give its economy a boost, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said on Friday, putting the government on course for a possible confrontation with labour unions.

Unions have threatened strikes should the deal go ahead, saying it would cause the collapse of loss-making state airline Tunisair TAIR.TN . But Tunisian officials say the deal will provide thousands of jobs and boost the vital tourism sector.

The North African country and the EU said in December they had agreed to open all Tunisian airports except Tunisair’s main base in the capital Tunis to foreign carriers. Tunis airport will follow after four years.

Both sides still need to finalise the agreement.

"We are ready to enter the Open Skies (deal) and we ask our European friends to accelerate the steps on this issue," Chahed told reporters after meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Tunis.

"Open Skies will create a new economic climate in Tunisia, support Tunisia's economy and give real opportunities", Chahed said.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara Editing by Ulf Laessing and David Holmes) ((tarek.amara@thomsonreuters.com;))