Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 31

The European Union has intensified its efforts to turn the Nabucco pipeline project into a reality, now that Turkey has pledged to throw its weight behind the project. Due to its geographical proximity to the suppliers, Turkey is a linchpin in the network, which is intended to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

Following a February 14 meeting with Jozias van Aartsen, EU coordinator for natural gas projects in southern Europe, Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler reiterated Ankara’s determination to back the Nabucco project.

“We [Turkey] and the pipeline company Botas have thrown our weight behind the Nabucco project. We will successfully complete it. The project has gained speed in particular with the inclusion of a sixth partner [the German firm RWE] to the project,” he said (NTV, February 14).

Guler, subsequently questioned while in Vienna, said that even prior to RWE’s addition, there were no real obstacles to making the Nabucco project a reality.

“Some circles also viewed the Baku-Tbilisi Ceyhan pipeline project with skepticism in the beginning. But, as you know, it is completed and operational,” he said (Hurriyet, February 6).

“My faith grew stronger that Nabucco will work,” van Aartsen added, during a press conference following his meetings in Ankara with the Turkish officials. Furthermore, van Aartsen stated, the EU and Turkey are in a strategic relationship on the energy issue. “Turkey can be the energy lungs of the EU,” he said (Sabah, February 16).

Estimated to cost $7.4 billion, the 3,300 kilometer-long Nabucco gas pipeline project is intended to pump 31 billion cubic meters of gas each year, primarily from the Caspian region and the Middle East to Europe (Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey) starting in 2012, at the earliest.

Turkey’s backing for the project came after long-standing disputes over Ankara’s technical and political reservations related to Nabucco.

Turkey seeks to pay a lower transmission fee, due to its closer proximity to the energy resources of the Caspian region as well as the Middle East. In addition, Ankara seeks to take extra gas from the Nabucco pipeline as part of its policy of becoming a player in the energy game rather than merely a transit country.

Van Aartsen is scheduled to visit Ankara again in the beginning of March in an attempt to iron out technical snags on the Turkish side, an EU official in Ankara told Jamestown.

Turkish Energy Minister Guler, meanwhile, reiterated Ankara’s rejection of having Gaz de France (GDF) in the project. Turkey opposes the inclusion of GDF because of France’s stances on Armenian genocide claims and Ankara’s EU bid.

“Gaz de France will not participate in the project as a seventh partner. Our policy is clear. We made our choice on the sixth partner [RWE],” he said (Hurriyet, February 14).

The contract was signed at the Austrian Economy Ministry on February 5, by the heads of the different companies involved — OMV of Austria, MOL of Hungary, Transgaz of Romania, Bulgargaz of Bulgaria and Botas of Turkey — and RWE Gas Midstream.

However, van Aartsen noted that although Gaz de France’s exclusion from Nabucco was not the purpose of his talks with Turkish officials, the company should not be left out of the project (Sabah, February 16).

Turkey has to follow EU norms whereby it cannot block any country from participation, and Nabucco needs diversified gas exports and transit routes, Ankara-based Western energy experts told Jamestown.

“The secure supply of gas via the pipeline should be free of political influence, and Turkey should not use politics in this project,” they asserted.

Nabucco is seen as a rival to Russia’s South Stream project, a €10 billion pipeline running from the Black Sea through Bulgaria and then splitting into two branches, one going northwest to Austria and the other south to Greece and then west to southern Italy.

South Stream, which is being built by Russia’s Gazprom and ENI of Italy, should be on stream by 2013.

In addition to Caspian gas resources, participants in the Nabucco project believe that Egyptian gas could feed the Nabucco pipeline. “Ten billion cubic meters of Egyptian gas per year can also initially feed the Nabucco pipeline,” according to an Ankara-based Western energy official.

The EU has rejected gas supplies from Iran for Nabucco, at least until Tehran resolves its standoff with the international community on its alleged plans to enrich uranium to develop nuclear bombs.

Meanwhile, as a sign of Turkish determination to support the project, Botas General Manager Huseyin Saltuk released a statement announcing that the British Penspen Group would conduct engineering work on the Turkish portion of the Nabucco pipeline, starting in January 2008 (Hurriyet, January 22).

Guler, meanwhile, proposed having the pipeline start from Ahiboz, near Ankara, instead of the country’s eastern border region in order to shorten considerably the length of the pipeline within the country and to allow gas to reach Europe even faster (Hurriyet, February 6).