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Letter from Amman

Over the past three decades, the EU has dealt with its Southern Mediterranean neighbors either through bilateral instruments of engagement such as political and economic Association Agreements or via multilateral frameworks like the Union for the Mediterranean created in 2008 writes Ahmad Masa’deh. Some Mediterranean countries such as Jordan have also been accorded a new form of relationship through the EU’s “advanced status” framework. Unfortunately, none of these initiatives has succeeded in reaching its optimal value or in benefiting the EU’s Southern neighbors.

EU initiatives in Jordan should focus on projects that lead to real political development and enhance the welfare and life quality of Jordanian citizens. From the point of view of the receiving countries, these initiatives have been seen mainly as financing tools. This mentality applies to Jordan. While EU monies have played a role in achieving some developmental and socioeconomic successes at the microlevel, their effect continues to be weak at the macrolevel. In the domain of political development and reform, including the creation of a proper system of political parties and democratization, EU programs have not delivered much and have been limited in their impact.

The EU’s approach to Jordan is confused, having been undermined by its inconsistency and by member states’ lack of unanimity. The EU has not pushed for serious structural reforms in its Southern neighbors, to the extent that at some junctures, the union’s involvement feels like no more than lip service. Indeed, the EU’s policy approach toward the Southern Mediterranean has contained a carrot (which has usually ended up financing the budgetary deficits of Arab countries) but never a stick.

The strong bilateral relations between some EU member states and Arab countries, as well as the different natures and interests of North African vis-à-vis Middle Eastern nations, have augmented a divide between the EU’s Southern neighbors. At times, the result has been that these countries have competed against one another to secure more unilateral benefits.

EU initiatives in Jordan should focus on projects that lead to real political development and enhance the welfare and life quality of Jordanian citizens. This division has derailed multilateral EU-Mediterranean cooperation. The Union for the Mediterranean could have been a golden opportunity and a magical tool to introduce proper political reform and large-scale economic projects on the southern rim of the Mediterranean. But conflicts of interest among EU states, mismanagement of the forum, and the eruption of the Arab Spring in December 2010 rendered this initiative futile.

Furthermore, a negative feeling has been created among Jordanian and other Arab societies by the failure of EU donor monies to achieve concrete and quantifiable results on the ground—that is, results that citizens feel directly in the form of lower unemployment and inflation rates and that are reflected in deep structural changes in the receiving states.

Worst of all, the limited impact of large, serious, political and economic EU projects on the southern rim of the Mediterranean played a role in strengthening autocratic regimes and led indirectly to the spread of radical movements in the region. Today, these movements, which are wrongfully branded as rooted in Islam, threaten the whole nationhood of Arab countries as well as the security and social stability of EU member states.

The challenge around the Mediterranean basin is ideological, educational, and cultural. To combat radicalism, regardless of its format, EU policies should comprise certain features. At the political and socioeconomic levels, EU initiatives in Jordan should focus strategically on projects that lead to proper political development and enhance the welfare and quality of life of Jordanian citizens. Targeted schemes aimed at making deep changes in the bureaucratic structure, philosophy, and ethics of the country’s public sector should take center stage. Projects focusing on the rule of law should play a prominent role as well.

At the technical level, EU policies should ease restrictions on industry, trade, rules of origin, and the provision of services originating from Jordan. This would help provide more opportunities for young Jordanians and achieve more equilibrium in the country’s balance of trade.

At the multilateral level, Jordan and other Arab countries would benefit from a serious EU project addressing strategic regional questions. To this end, the EU and its Southern neighbors need to erect a new multilateral EU-Mediterranean platform. Essential elements in such an exercise should include solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, concluding an Arab free-trade agreement, ending civil wars and internal crises, resolving the refugee crisis and paving the way for refugees to return to their homes (especially the 1.2 million Syrians in Jordan, who are heavily consuming the country’s resources), and reviving the original cultural and civil values of the Middle East.

In summary, to overcome past disappointing experiences, the quality, not the quantity, of cooperation should be the focus of EU-Jordanian dealings in the future.

Ahmad Masa’deh is the managing partner of Khalaf Masa’deh & Partners and a former Jordanian minister, ambassador to the EU, and secretary general of the Union for the Mediterranean. This article was first published by Judy Dempsey’s strategic Europe under the auspices of Carnegie Europe. More information can be found at 

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