EU is the culprit for Turkish–Russian energy rapprochement

EU is the culprit for Turkish–Russian energy rapprochement

It has always been “too little too late” when it comes to relations between Turkey and the European Union. In the 1990s Turkey’s reform efforts came in such bits and pieces that it took a long time for the EU to grant it candidate status and agree to start accession negotiations.

When the EU had made clear long in advance that Greek Cyprus would become a member, in order to force both sides to reach a permanent settlement, the Turkish side waited until the very last minute before showing a genuine effort for a solution. On that occasion it was “too much, but still too late.”

This last-minute effort on Cyprus was possible only because Justice and Development Party (AKP) had come to power, and the party’s elites wanted a clean sheet in relations with the EU.

So, in the 2000s when the AKP ruled Turkey, it was the EU’s turn to take a stance that could be described as “too little too late.” In its first term in government, and even in its second term, the AKP conducted a remarkable reform process. Previously, Turkey was told that it would receive equal treatment with other candidates, and that its accession process pace would depend on the pace of its reforms. However, the EU did not keep its word. For example, in order to encourage the Turkish Cypriots to vote for a solution in the 2004 referendum, the EU vowed that even if the Greek Cypriots rejected the U.N.-brokered solution, the Turkish Cypriots would not be left in the cold. But ever since then the Turkish Cypriots have been left in the cold, as any effort to the contrary has been vetoed by the EU member Greek Cypriots. What’s more, Turkey was punished for not recognizing the Greek Cypriots, and with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s objection to the accession process, several chapters of the membership talks were suspended.

In short, Turkey’s major reform endeavor was not reciprocated by the EU. This had a “cold shower effect” on the AKP government, which by 2010 had gained enough self-confidence to hit back at the Europeans and halt the reform process.

It is a fact that Turkey’s suspension of reforms is no punishment to the EU in the short term, but it is not in the EU’s interests to see Turkey backslide on democracy in the long term. Indeed, Turkey’s distancing from the EU could turn out to be costly, especially in the energy field, and this has become quite clear with the recent decision by Russia on oil pipelines.

I wonder whether EU energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic recalled the now defunct Nabucco project when he was told last week by Gazprom head Alexei Miller that the EU should build new infrastructure to link up with a future Russia-Turkey pipeline, or otherwise lose access to supplies.

The Nabucco project was designed as an energy alternative to Russia; both in terms of providing an alternative route and sourcing energy from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Iraq and even possibly Iran at a later stage. Turkey worked hard to get genuine EU support for the project. But the 28-nation bloc never genuinely endorsed it, partly because of Germany, which was enjoying the comfortable position of receiving Russian gas from the north and did not want to antagonize Moscow. At the end of the day, as predicted by a Russian official, Nabucco remained only the name of an opera.

However, Russia’s expansionist policies seem to have forced the limits of Germany’s appeasement policy. After deciding to punish Russia, the EU’s obstruction to Moscow’s South Stream project, (designed to bypass Ukraine and the rival Nabucco), paid off when Russia canceled the project.

Europeans used to tell the Russians to “bring gas to the border and don’t bother with the rest,” while Russians wanted to have a role in the transport and distribution of gas within Europe. Now, the Russians are telling the Europeans to come and fetch the gas on the Turkish–Greek border, as gas will be transferred via Turkey. And this has sent shockwaves through Europe?

We can debate whether or not Turkish support of the latest Russian move is actually in the interests of the Turks. I am sure that Turkey will be criticized by certain circles in Europe, arguing that by cooperating with Russia, Turkey is sabotaging Europe’s unified stance against Moscow. They will even question whether Turkey belongs to European family or not. However, as Europe is making sure that Turkey does not feel part of the family, criticizing it on that score will be highly unfair.