Europe’s gas needs are probably meant to decrease over time, as the European Commission is trying to decouple GDP growth from energy consumption. In this sense, the Russian decision to cancel the South Stream and bet on a pipeline to Turkey makes complete sense, as in the long term the Russian gas could be mainly directed to the Turkish market.
But as a conference in Brussels showed on Thursday, there are still some doubts on the relationship with the 18th economy in the world. Can Ankara be considered a reliable partner and a positive influence for Europe’s energy security in the medium and long term? Panellists of the conference Refuelling Europe: The Single Energy Market and Energy Union in a post-South Stream Environment seemed to disagree – a Bulgarian MEP objected the view expressed by Brendan Devlin, Advisor of DG Energy.
TURKEY-RUSSIA RELATION POSITIVE FOR EUROPE – SAYS EC
Devlin welcomed Turkey as a positive partner that could support Europe’s need of diversification, adding that a final investment decision for TANAP should be taken by the end of April.
“What I can see in the relationship between Turkey and Russia are only strategic benefits for the European Union. Presumably, there will be more gas in Turkey, which means that there will be more gas liberated for supplies to the European Union” the Advisor of DG Energy commented on Thursday, adding that more liquidity is always good.
Devlin also said that, as a consequence of the Turkish Stream, Russia will depend on another transit country, giving Turkey a strategic advantage. This could then translate in strategic concessions, which could then cause the Trans-Caspian pipeline to go ahead. In other words, the subsea pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan could progress in light of an increase diplomatic power of the country led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
At the same time, according to Devlin, the Turkish Stream would make sense for a second set of reasons. In the long term, gas could be indeed directed to Turkey, and not to Europe.
“I suspect that in the long term the real motivation for Turkish Stream has nothing to do with the European Union,” Devlin argued, explaining that Turkey still displays a strong correlation between GDP growth and energy consumption.
Devlin concluded that Russia could also export gas to Europe making use of the TAP pipeline.
MORE POWERS TO TURKEY? A BULGARIAN VIEW
Vladimir Urutchev asked whether it makes any sense to give Ankara more powers. Contextualising the Russian project to Turkey in the wider context of increased energy cooperation of Ankara and Caspian countries, Urutchev said that the Turkish Stream is a project with far-reaching strategic consequences.
Saying that the South Stream pipeline was equally a political plan that managed to “kill” the Nabucco project, the Bulgarian MEP questioned the role of Turkey. He clearly argued the interest of Bulgaria to get Russian gas, and he reminded how the South Stream project had been cancelled the same day the Turkish Stream was announced.
“This development has several repercussions. One is that Turkish Stream will be also a political project like the South Stream… Now Russia will try with this new pipeline to have influence in the region, to prevent, maybe to delay, the diversification of gas supplies to the region” Urutchev said.
According to the Bulgarian MEP, Moscow would then capitalise on the Third Energy Package. Shipping gas through TAP, Russia would further diversify transit routes, still selling its gas to the EU.
“Do we want to give Turkey the power that they already have with the gas supplies from Azerbaijan, Iran and so on? Do we think that Turkey is the country that we can rely on for a long term?” he argued.
Earlier this week, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan announced they would establish a trilateral mechanism on energy issues. Similarly, last month, European Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič proposed to Turkey’s Minister Taner Yildiz an increase in cooperation through high-level energy dialogue.
Against this backdrop, it seems clear that the ties with Turkey, and the role of Ankara will be the object of further discussion. Especially if member states will see a growing role of Turkey to be detrimental for their energy security, this could be an additional factor of instability in the region that the European Commission has to carefully consider.
The “regional approach” to energy issues is a good instrument to foster cooperation between Brussels and South-East member states, but it is likely that new forms of assistance will be needed. European authorities will have to create mechanisms to trigger the kind of political will that local governments need in order to push forward necessary energy projects.