AMMAN – Despite the many negative effects of the Russian-Ukrainian war on international relations in general, energy prices, and food chains, these events have renewed the strategic importance of the Middle East region in the field of energy, food, and the global economy, as seen by the Jordanian, European and American politicians and experts who participated in a discussion workshop held by the Politics and Society Institute in cooperation with the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation (September 13) via zoom.
In the workshop, which included both Jordanian and European speakers, participants pointed out that Jordanian-European relations have witnessed a great leap in the past years, the volume of financial support provided by the European Union and European countries has increased and relations have been significantly strengthened, and the European appreciation of Jordan has increased for many reasons, including the advantage of political stability and the strategic regional role played by Jordan, and the moderate positions of the Jordanian leadership. A fact sheet released by the European Union in September of last year indicated that the value of EU aid to Jordan amounted to €3.2 billion in a decade, of which €392 million was humanitarian aid. German aid to Jordan has increased significantly, as well as that of many other European countries. In addition, the British government announced in 2019 the provision of an aid package to Jordan of about $1.2 billion to support its economy, including $980 million in grants and loans, and $250 million as loan guarantees with the World Bank.
The speakers at the workshop, which was entitled “Jordanian-European Relations in a Changing World”, included Ambassador Maria Hadjitheodosiou, the European Union ambassador to Jordan, and Ambassador Fayez Khoury, the Director of European Affairs at the Jordanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh, a Jordanian researcher specializing in strategic affairs, and European expert Dr. Daniela Huber also spoke, and the event was moderated by politician and lawyer Saed Karajah. Other attendees included Jordanian experts, politicians, and economists representing the team involved in the project “A Turning Point: How Can Jordan and its Allies Sail in Uncertainty?”.
The workshop called for the development of Jordanian-European relations and the improvement of conditions to enhance cooperation between the two parties. It called for going beyond the logic of seasonal assistance to institutionalize strategic understandings and partnerships linked by the awareness of both parties of the importance, obligations, and interests of each party. This development of relations requires a strategic dialogue that discusses key questions:
1. What is the strategic value of Jordan’s role in European interests in the region? What spaces can Jordan fill in this partnership?
2. To what extent can Europe form a strategic ally of Jordan beyond the principle of financial aid?
3. How can common interests, challenges, and threats be identified for these strategic interests?
What are common strategic interests?
Despite the expansion and prosperity in Jordanian-European relations, there are still important opportunities for strengthening cooperation between the two parties, but this requires redefining common strategic interests – especially with the signs of the American withdrawal from important areas of work in the region, especially at the strategic and security level – as Jordan has become a “safe and stable oasis” with the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan, the problems related to the Pakistani role, tensions with Turkey, the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war, and the escalation with China and its future implications.
The above changes are pushing Jordan to occupy an unprecedented prominent position in the strategic perspective of Europe and its relationship with the world, in terms of military, security, and even economic cooperation, in sectors such as energy, gas, and other areas that Jordan’s strategic location can help facilitate.
Military and security cooperation between Jordan and many European countries has strengthened over the past years for many reasons, including the fight against terrorism and the military and security tensions occurring in the region, such as events in Syria and Iraq and tensions in the occupied territories with declining confidence in the possibility of a two-state solution and the inability of the intermediary parties to offer creative solutions and ideas for a peaceful resolution.
On the other hand, Jordan views the European Union and many European countries from the perspective of important strategic partnerships, both in terms of the assistance and support they provide to Jordan and in terms of stability in their relations and interests compared to the recent noticeable changes in the policies and strategies of the US administrations towards international relations and the region in particular, which are cumbersome and disturbing changes for Jordan, which views and continues to view the United States as a strategic partner, but it is clear that since the Arab Spring there has been a change in American behavior in the region, especially with regard to the main issues facing Jordan, such as the Syrian, Iraqi, and Iranian issues and the peace settlement. Jordan finds it necessary to significantly develop its relations with Europe to fill a need in Jordan’s alliances and because of the many perspectives that Jordan and its European partners share in common regarding several global and regional issues.
The need to develop Jordanian-European relations, from the Jordanian perspective, is also based on a significant shift in the region in the positions and policies of the countries that have formed strategic alliances with Jordan and on the divergence of priorities between Jordan and many brotherly Arab countries on the issue of priorities, threats and other variables, which dismantled the traditional alliances of Jordan and changed the surrounding regional situations. It is a source of threat as evidenced by the administration of former US President Donald Trump and the pressure it exerted on Jordan regarding the deal of the century and the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem.
There have been major shifts in Jordan’s role, which has been linked to its strategic (geopolitical) position and entanglement with the Palestinian cause, whether in terms of the conflict with Israel or the peace process, and its close relations with the American administrations, a strategic position that has been significantly shaken in the past years with the Arab-Israeli normalization process (the Abraham Accords), the collapse that occurred in Jordan’s strategic region (Iraq, Syria, and Egypt), and the significant decline in the possibility of a two-state solution, all of which weaken Jordan’s traditional role and open the horizon to new possible strategic roles and tasks, including the strengthening of relations and interests with the European Union.
It is possible in the future to strengthen military, security, and economic cooperation between Jordan and European countries through the building of understandings between the European Union and the Jordanian government that redefine common strategic interests, areas of strategic cooperation, and future prospects and build a clear agenda for expanding cooperation and partnership between Jordan, the Union, and the various European countries.
Strategic Partnership: Incentives and Challenges
Despite the clear common strategic interests between the two parties, there are important factors that need to be taken into account when building a joint strategic dialogue, including the internal situation of Jordan and the image and reputation of Jordan among the European peoples, a factor that can contribute to strengthening cooperation and facilitate assistance in European parliaments, which is pushing Jordan to move more solidly and emphatically towards political, economic and administrative reform. The process started with it and was supported by the EU Delegation to Jordan. Jordan improved its reputation in terms of democracy, human rights, media freedoms, public freedoms, women’s issues, and other values that influence the European view of Jordan.
On the other hand, it is necessary to focus on the importance of Jordan’s strategic role in European interests in the context of the recent rise of European right-wing movements and orientations and their ability in recent elections to reach positions of power in many European countries with agendas calling for an inward retreat and with biased stances against Arab and Muslim communities and minorities within the country.
On the other hand, there remains the challenge of the lack of clear unified European policies towards the Arab region in many regards, such as Iraq and Syria, the Palestinian issue, or even the Iranian nuclear issue. This is likely due to either differing individual European policies or the dilemma of being the No. 2 player after the United States of America regarding critical issues for Jordan.
It is necessary to have a joint Jordanian-European strategic dialogue to develop clear and common perceptions and positions on regional issues as well as common spaces so the two sides can play greater roles and collaborate to promote shared interests related to these issues.