Jordan plays a key strategic role in maintaining peace in the Middle East, developing the region and managing the migration crisis. Having led a series of ambitious reforms that have founded a path to growth, the Hashemite Kingdom needs more than ever to receive the support of France and the European Union in order to meet the immense challenge of welcoming refugees and stabilizing the region. The only Arab country alongside Egypt to have a peace agreement with Israel, Jordan is a key player in resolving crises in the Middle East and a privileged diplomatic partner of France.
“Jordan is a key partner for us in Jerusalem,” declared Emmanuel Macron on the occasion of King Abdullah II’s visit to France in December 2017, adding that he shared with the monarch “the same conviction that the status of Jerusalem cannot be separated from a just and lasting peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” When the United States announced the transfer of their embassy to Jerusalem, France was one of the first allies with whom King Abdullah II of Jordan spoke.
Jordan is also a centerpiece of the stability in the Holy City, acting as the backer of Jerusalem’s most sacred Islamic sites. Above all, it plays a fundamental role in managing the Syrian and Iraqi migration crisis by absorbing 2.3 million refugees into its territory.
Through it all, France has maintained and close relationship with Jordan. “Even before the outbreak of the war in Syria and Iraq, France has always considered Jordan as an important security partner,” said France’s ambassador to Jordan, David Bertolotti.
As a constitutional monarchy, Jordan enjoys rare political stability in the region, unlike its Lebanese, Iraqi and Syrian neighbors, in the grip of recurring conflicts. Its geographical position has made it a key country for receiving refugees, whether from Palestine as early as 1948, Iraq in the 1990s or Syria today. According to a census conducted in late 2015, of the 5 million people who fled the Damascus regime, 1.3 million Syrians have sought refuge in Jordan, where they account for nearly 14 percent of the Jordanian population (9.8 million ‘inhabitants). All refugees account for 20% of the population.
Playing a fundamental buffer role between the war zones of the Middle East and Europe, the Hashemite Kingdom is thus essential to maintaining the political and humanitarian balance in the region.
In this context, the assistance provided by the EU and international institutions is crucial to enable the Jordanian authorities to cope with a dramatic situation and avoid a new migration crisis in Europe. For the Amman government, taking care of refugees from Syria and Iraq is indeed a huge humanitarian, logistical and financial challenge that the country cannot bear alone. The cost of hosting them has been estimated by the authorities at more than $10 billion since the outbreak of the conflict. This is significant amount for the Jordanian economy, including burdens on healthcare, housing, education and emergency food aid.
Economic growth and resilience found
Despite massive debt, high unemployment, international trade and tourism undermined by the Syrian and Iraq crises and the lack of exploitable natural resources (except potash and phosphates, of which the Kingdom is the fifth largest exporter in the world), Jordan has demonstrated remarkable resilience over the last two decades. Thanks to a series of courageous reforms since 1999, Amman has found its way back to growth. Strict fiscal and monetary policy, liberalization of its economy, tax reforms and ambitious privatization have enabled the Kingdom to attract foreign investment and establish a cooperation agreement with the EU in 2001.
A stabilizing element of the Middle East, the country can count on the support of the international community. In recent years, the European Union has been facilitating the export of Jordanian products and major loans have been made by the World Bank ($300 million) and the IMF ($723 million) since 2016. But attracting new foreign investment remains a priority for Jordan. To consolidate its growth, the Amman government is now betting on a dynamic tertiary sector, which accounts for two thirds of the country’s GDP and employs nearly 70% of the active population. Banking, telecommunications, commerce and real estate are now the priorities of the Jordanian kingdom, where the new technology sector is also booming.
Logically, France has looked favorably on the investment of its companies in its ally, becoming the sixth largest foreign investor in Jordan, with 1.7 billion euros of FDI stock. This makes Paris the largest non-Arab investor in the country, on par with the United States, according to statistics from the French government. Orange and the telecommunication sector, which account for the lion’s share of French FDI, represents 66% of total investment coming from France. The goal now is to diversify them. “I would like French companies to continue investing in Jordan, especially in the water and energy sectors,” said Macron last December.
“French investments have transformed entire segments of the Jordanian economy, not only in the telecommunications sector thanks to Orange’s investments, but also in gasoline distribution, where Total has been a driving force in gas stations” confirmed Mr. Bertolotti. As for Lafarge, it is the largest producer of cement in Amman, while Suez has built the Wadi Ma’in desalination plant in Jordan.
The reconstruction of Iraq offers considerable potential
The Kingdom can receive a major economic rebound thanks to the prospects offered by Iraq, devastated by the war and whose reconstruction is estimated at some $88 billion. As a historic partner of Baghdad, the Jordanian government should indeed be one of the first beneficiaries of this huge project. As proof, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, Iraqi Minister of Foreign Affairs, recently reaffirmed the “considerable potential” of the Jordanian kingdom for reconstruction. Jordanian Prime Minister Omar Razzaz has said he wants to “consolidate economic relations” with Syria and Iraq.
Thanks to American aid, a logistics center has already been built near the Syrian borders, on the international road serving Iraq. It could serve as a hub for the reconstruction of both countries, but today the emergency is above all humanitarian. As a key country in the management of Syrian refugees and with undeniable economic potential, the Jordanian kingdom needs more than ever the support of France and the European Union to prevent any risk of a major migration crisis.