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Turkey Seeks to Make Nabucco More Than Pipe Dream

  • Dorian Jones

As a result of the disruption of gas supplies to the European Union from Russia, Turkey is now positioning itself as an alternative route for energy with the proposed Nabucco pipeline. But the new pipeline does not come without its own problems and risks.

The multibillion-dollar Nabucco pipeline project is seen as one of Europe's best hopes for limiting its dependence on Russian gas.

The European Union has stepped up efforts to diversify its energy sources since Russia's invasion of Georgia last summer and amid a dispute between Moscow and Kiev that has curtailed supplies across Ukraine to Europe.

According to energy expert Kate Hardin, diversification of energy sources is key.

"I think that what happened with the Ukrainian gas cut. I think that actually motivated the Europeans to look again at their reliance on single suppliers of gas," said Hardin. "So even though they have various sources right now - Algeria, Libya, Russia, LNG - I think they took a second look at that and perhaps better diversification would better suit us and certainly Turkey as a potential bridge for eastern gas does play a role there."

The intended route for the Nabucco pipeline is from the Caspian Sea to Turkey and on to Europe through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary.

Former Turkish energy official Mithat Mende says the need for alternative routes will increase in the future.

"Europe's natural gas consumption will grow by at least 70 percent by 2030," said Mende. "I believe, given our geography and potential, we can provide a good contribution to Europe with respect to enhancing their energy supply security. Nabucco is the best example of this."

The role of Turkey as an energy bridge to Europe is seen by Ankara as important bargaining chip in its bid to join the EU.

But Turkey's bid to join, which began with negotiations in 2005, has been limping along over disputes concerning the Greek government of Cyprus, which is blocking talks on the energy section of the bid. Energy is one of the 35 areas, or so-called chapters, in Turkey's accession talks.

In a rare visit to Brussels Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said that he will review his support for the Nabucco gas pipeline to Europe if the energy portion of its EU accession talks remains blocked.

"If we are faced with a situation where the energy chapter is blocked, we would of course review our position," he said.

Mr. Erdogan's comment was angrily denounced by some European politicians, with one German minister accused Turkey of blackmail over the pipeline.

Analyst Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group has a different perspective on the Turkish prime minister's comment.

"Right now Turkey is about to run out of chapters to negotiate with the European Union. Because of all kinds of blockages within the European Union. If we are talking about blackmail, there is a lot of pushing and shoving going in the European Union, and for the European Union to behave like Erdogan's demand comes out of nowhere is a little simplistic," said Pope.

Following strong European reaction, Mr. Erdogan, seemed to back down saying Turkey would never interfere in the completion of the pipeline.

But analysts say, despite this pledge, European leaders still have concerns. Ankara is reportedly demanding higher transit fees and the right to use some of the gas rather than simply sending it all to Western Europe.

But Turkish Energy Minister Hilmi Guler says they are committed to resolving the dispute.

The latest natural gas crisis has demonstrated that Turkey's insistence on wrapping up Nabucco is very well-founded, he said.

Building energy pipelines are usually major engineering achievements. But as in the case of Nabucco, overcoming the politics surrounding them are usually just as formidable.


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