Canal Istanbul may be bridge too far for Erdoğan - analyst

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invested a great deal of personal prestige in a project to build a canal bypassing the Bosporus Strait, but the odds are against him due to public opposition and the diplomatic complexity the project entails, analyst Sinan Ülgen wrote for Bloomberg on Tuesday.

The government says the Canal Istanbul project joining the Black Sea and Marmara Sea will reduce the dangers posed by heavy traffic passing the Bosporus.

But many in Turkey see the planned canal, a trademark megaproject of the ruling Justice and Development Party that even Erdoğan has dubbed a “crazy project”, as an attempt to generate revenue by a government that has seen its cashflow diminish due to a protracted economic slump.

Thousands of citizens have expressed their concerns about the potential that canal has to harm Istanbul’s environment, particularly its freshwater reserves, and most Turks oppose the project, Ülgen said.

Besides opposition from the public, the plan to build a canal may provoke pushback from Turkey’s neighbours since an additional waterway will complicate the Montreux Convention that has governed passage through the Bosporus Strait since 1936.

The convention acknowledges countries’ rights to free passage through the Bosporus, making it difficult to see why shipping companies would choose to pay to traverse the canal, Ülgen said.

And, if Turkey wishes to impose a fee on the Bosporus, it would need the approval of seven out of the 10 states that are party to the convention.

“Triggering negotiations on the provisions of the convention could also lead to disagreements over its military clauses, which give Turkey a strong mandate to control the passage of warships to the Black Sea,” Ülgen said. “Erdogan has indicated that the new canal would be open to naval vessels, which might undermine the convention’s restrictions on the Bosporus.”