Nabucco Project Faces Turkish Hurdles at Critical Turn

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 80

Pipes being prepared for the Blue Stream Natural Gas Pipeline

Capitalizing on the European Commission’s November 2008 initiative to promote the Corridor and to create a Caspian Development Corporation, the Budapest meeting set the goal of signing the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) and at least clear the way for signing the Project Support Agreements (PSA’s) during the first half of 2009. In March the EU allocated 200 million Euros to the Nabucco project as seed capital for the first time ever, with more expected after the IGA and PSA’s are signed. Drawing on that seed funding, the Nabucco project company has already begun contracting work from some engineering firms in the transit countries.

Turkey’s AKP government, however, continues to obstruct the project, causing it to lose momentum again as it nears the landmark signing dates. Clearly, this government does not share the EU’s goal of moving forward with Nabucco by signing the IGA and clearing the way for the PSA’s. Instead, the AKP government has developed a vested interest in dragging out the project, using it as leverage on the EU in the even longer-dragging EU-Turkey accession negotiations; and trying to leverage it also on extraneous issues such as the Cyprus conflict (EDM, March 4, 5, 16, April 20).

Unless the EU has a serious dialogue with the AKP government, the latter can continue stalling on Nabucco and even on other issues of interest to the EU (while using similar tactics in NATO). The EU can have that serious conversation with Ankara on the Nabucco project. The United States also supports Nabucco politically, but seems currently in a poor position to weigh in with Turkey effectively on this issue. President Barack Obama avoided raising the Nabucco issue during his recent visit to Turkey.

Instead, the U.S. became the party seeking Turkey’s favors on a range of strategic and political issues during Obama’s visit.

Turkey’s ambitions to become an energy "hub" constitute the wrong basis for policy planning in Ankara on energy, regional policy, and on relations with the EU. The AKP government can only achieve such ambitions at the expense of supplier countries’ resources and at European consumers’ expense.

Meanwhile, Ankara is negotiating with Moscow about a further increase in imports of Russian gas through the Blue Stream pipeline and its proposed extension, Blue Stream Two. As part of its strategic partnership with Russia, the AKP government (mainly through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in this case) has even been trying to include Gazprom into the Nabucco project.

For any such deliveries, however, Gazprom expects to use mainly Turkmen gas (or gas swapped with Turkmenistan). Gazprom even hopes to use some Azerbaijani gas, if the AKP government continues to obstruct Azerbaijan’s westward outlet. Those would be the same gas volumes that should find their way from Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, bypassing Russia, via Georgia and Turkey to Europe, in accordance with the primary vision of Turkey as a corridor for Caspian gas to the EU. Instead of a European corridor, however, the AKP government would turn Turkey into a gate-keeper and toll-extractor; or even into a corridor for Gazprom-delivered gas from Central Asia in the guise of "Russian" gas.

Meanwhile, Turkey buys Azerbaijani gas far below market prices and would only readjust it slightly, nowhere near commercial value. Ankara has just reaffirmed that position in the government’s retort to Azerbaijani State Oil Company’s chairman Rovnag Abdullayev on this issue (ANS TV, Baku, Anatolia News Agency, April 25; Hurriyet, April 26).

Inadvertently, the EU and the United States (most recently during Obama’s visit) have conveyed to the AKP government an exalted sense of its importance to the West. Apparently encouraged to feel indispensable, it is overplaying its hand with growing boldness toward the EU and within NATO. Such tactics are already boomeranging. They have recently strengthened the opposition in some major European political circles to the idea of Turkey joining the EU, or turned some former supporters and fence-sitters into opponents.

When Turkish officials stall on Nabucco, or turn it into leverage on the EU to accelerate accession negotiations, the obvious response would be to turn the tables and seek Ankara’s cooperation on Nabucco and other energy issues as a prerequisite to any acceleration of accession negotiations. Turkey’s behavior on Nabucco will also inevitably be considered in any future decision on the transport of Iranian gas to Europe. In that case, Turkey would have to be circumvented. By stalling and posing unacceptable conditions on Nabucco, the AKP government is losing Europe’s confidence in Turkey’s reliability as an energy partner to the EU.