Is the Turkish-Azeri partnership enough for EU energy security?
Two important multilateral meetings took place on Tuesday, one in Tbilisi and the other one in Rome. While Tbilisi hosted the presidents of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia over regional cooperation, in Rome the energy ministers of G-7 countries came together to discuss how to wean Europe off its dependency on Russian gas.
Azerbaijan as the source country, Turkey and Georgia as transit countries, and G-7 countries as the world’s largest energy consumer countries, rightly meet on this very point: How to diversify Europe’s energy resources so that Russian President Vladimir Putin can no longer exercise his military power against his neighbors?
There’s also the question of how to avoid Russia’s use of its natural gas as a foreign policy tool to threaten an entire continent. As a follow-up, how can Turkey, with close ties to Azerbaijan and a candidate for EU membership, play a constructive role in this equation?
For sure, these questions have no easy or “quick fix” for Europe’s energy dependence on Russia, as Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s economic and energy minister said on Tuesday. “Everyone agrees with me that, given the current conflict, there will be no quick solution,” Gabriel was quoted as saying on the margins of the meeting in Rome. “I don’t know anyone in the world who can tell us how Europe’s dependency on imported Russian gas can be changed in the short term.”
A third of the EU’s gas demand is met by Russia, with almost half of that this passing through Ukraine, which is currently in a price dispute with Russian gas exporter Gazprom, the third such dispute in the past decade.
The G-7 energy ministers were scheduled to issue a written statement late Tuesday focusing on the need to diversify energy sources and to build up gas infrastructure and interconnectivity.
With Germany coming top, almost all European countries have a measure of responsibility for not establishing a common EU energy policy, especially in the last decade, as Russia has started to use its energy card more obviously. The symbolic icon of the EU’s failure to develop a sensible energy security policy is the Nabucco project. After years of futile work, the project has been shelved, to the advantage of Russia, which successfully launched its South Stream pipeline project to increase its share of the European market even further.
Speaking to Reuters on Monday, Italian DeputyIndustry Minister Claudio De Vincenti on the one hand said Rome was placing increased importance on completing the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) to bring Azeri gas to Italy, while on the other hand he confessed that Italy also fully supported Russia’s South Stream project. This is just one example how Europeans are still divided on the question of a common energy policy, simply because each country is putting its individual interests before the EU and other countries.
Although Europeans are failing to reach a common policy on energy security, this does not explain why Azerbaijan, Turkey and Georgia and even Turkmenistan are not moving faster to complete a project like the Trans-Anatolia Natural Gas Pipeline (TANAP).
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev spoke with hope that, thanks to the TANAP, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan would provide the energy security of Europe in the future. “The issues we have discussed here today are very important for Europe and the world,” he said, adding that the TAP and the TANAP were the most important energy projects for Europe. Azerbaijan has one of the richest oil and gas reserves in the world and is seen to help the EU reduce its dependency on Russia.
Turkish President Abdullah Gül also emphasized the importance of the TANAP for regional cooperation and world markets, saying the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project was the most successful result of the cooperation between these Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
It’s true that the EU’s ignorance in opening the energy chapter in Turkey’s accession process is one of the most important hurdles in front of sound cooperation between all parties. But on Turkey’s side, as a country that is itself 65 percent dependent on Russian energy, it’s also time to mull over a long term strategy, not to only wean itself off Russian resources, but also to become the regional energy hub that it has wanted to become over the last two decades.