EU asserting its ‘values’ with its backing of Jordan’s water autonomy

Ruba Saqr (Photo: Jordan News)
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency. (Photo: Jordan News)
Just two days ahead of the European Union’s unveiling of its “Global Gateway” program, a multi-billion-euro strategy to reshape Europe’s foreign policy through “fair” infrastructure projects, the bloc lent its surprise backing to Jordan’s sole water-autonomy bid, the “National Water Carrier Project”.اضافة اعلان

With this, Jordan secured a trusted financier to support its preferred water-security scheme, and has done so against all odds. In many ways, this unexpected patronage constitutes a pivotal moment for Jordan, the region and the world, especially that we are on the cusp of a new world order that will most certainly see a bolstered role for the EU as it redefines world approaches to peace, climate action and shared prosperity.

Essentially, what the EU has done is to tactfully, yet assertively, move in on decades-old US “territory”, managed for the past 30 years exclusively by US and World Bank negotiators, all the way back to the Clinton era when the 1994 Peace Treaty was signed.

The national water carrier, after all, is Jordan’s answer to almost three decades of failed US-led negotiations with Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority to make the Red-Dead Canal a reality.

In a phenomenal turn of events, however, Jordanians were given another shot at achieving their country’s top long-term water-security project, which promises to help local communities, refugee camps and host communities (where Syrian refugees reside) out of a chronic water crisis that should have been averted a long time ago.

While some blame climate change for the incomprehensible state we are in today, lack of vision and ethical responsibility are two major factors that should not be minimized or discounted.

Last week, European Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi raised the curtain on some exceptional EU plans to mobilize investments in Jordan for around 2.5 billion euros (around $2.82 billion). What is important about this particular announcement is that in its first phase, the amount is meant to finance two priority projects, including the long-awaited desalination plant on the shores of Aqaba, to eventually transfer about 300 million cubic meters of water from the Red Sea to Amman and the northern governorates, as part of the national water carrier.

The EU’s motives are clear.

“Jordan is a key partner for the EU, and it is an anchor for us in the region. Its resilience, stability, security and prosperity are crucial,” Várhelyi said during his recent visit to Jordan where he met with top Jordanian officials and took part in the First Euro-Arab Border Security Conference that coincided with the launch of the Global Gateway, on December 1.

All the EU had to do was simply fill a void. With the World Bank Group’s recent decision (announced this past May) to remove the Red Sea-Dead Sea project from its list of financed projects for Jordan, the door was wide open for a new player to step in and offer support to Jordan in its long-sought endeavor to achieve water independence – in a manner that is both fair and logical to the country’s future, and with no strings attached.

The EU’s announcement also came at a peculiar moment for Jordan. Around three weeks ago, the US initiated yet another “regional water scheme”, namely the “energy-for-water” declaration of intent among Jordan, Israel and the UAE, which poses unnecessary competition to Jordan’s Aqaba plans. In other words, the arrangement threatens to draw attention away from the national water carrier by minimizing its chances to secure necessary funding.

That said, the EU’s decision to back Jordan’s strategic choice is not at all surprising. The bloc has been well on its way to achieve "strategic autonomy", as envisioned by French President Emmanuel Macron in response to Trump’s alienation of Western allies and, most recently, the ill-advised AUKUS debacle that has fueled French and European determination to forge a path independent of US guardianship.

Worth 300 billion euros ($340 billion), the Global Gateway effectively translates this vision into reality. In fact, in a recent opinion piece by High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell, the term evolved into Europe’s “Strategic Compass”, which overhauls Europe’s foreign policy in ways that have seldom been seen since World War II.

Most significantly, the Global Gateway is more than just constructive competition with the US’ Build Back Better World (B3W) program (recently approved by the Senate) or a way to counter the predatory practices pushed by China's Belt-and-Road Initiative. The EU’s infrastructure program is actually driven by higher “European values” that aim to offer financing to “like-minded” partners “under fair and favorable terms in order to limit the risk of debt distress”.

For added emphasis, the word “fair” shows up repeatedly in all EU communication related to the new strategy, including the official Global Gateway video that showcases the word in bold and oversized font.

In one of her tweets, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen highlights the importance of European principles as the driving force behind its strategy by saying: “Let’s build infrastructure and together set rules and standards in line with our values.”

Other buzzwords driving the new EU strategy include: “sustainable” and “high-quality” projects, “value-driven” investments, and “transparency and good governance”. Another phrase that comes across often is “levelling the playing field”, which should be relevant to Jordan, especially that Israel has for so long been granted the unfair strategic advantage to monopolize water resources in the area.

With these carefully selected concepts, the EU aims to differentiate itself from both the US and China by branding itself as the bloc with the constructive values that aim to put human condition above petty politics.

While fairness is probably the spirit that has compelled the EU to back Jordan’s water-autonomy efforts, it is high time for a conscientious world leadership that is bold enough to redefine our region in a just manner – with fair redistribution of natural resources, climate action rooted in equity and peace that does not cancel people’s right to dignity.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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