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A theoretical interpretation is given for the observed long-distance correlationsin potential fluctuations in TJ-II. The value of the correlation increases above the critical point of the transition for the emergence of the plasma edge shear flow layer. Mean (i.e. surface averaged, zero-frequency) sheared flows cannot account for the experimental results. A model consisting of four envelope equations for the fluctuation level, the mean flow shear, the zonal flow amplitude shear and the averaged pressure gradient is proposed. It is shown that the presence of zonal flows is essential to reproduce the main features of the experimental observations.