A new energy common ground for Turkey and the EU needed - analyst

Atlantic Council’s Turkey representative Defne Sadıklar Aslan claims that “Turkey and the EU share many of the same energy challenges” and that “there is an urgent need for common ground to be reached on mutual interests to resolve the existing conflicts”. 

Turkey and Cyprus have been engaged in a dispute over the extent of their exclusive economic zones and gas exploration in the Mediterrenean. Turkey recently "threatened to use force" to stop attempts by the Italian energy major ENI to reach an area off the east of Cyrus and drill for gas. The discovery of vast gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has prompted a rush of investment since 2009, with the discovery of the record-breaking Zohr gas field in Egyptian waters particularly exciting news for Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot government will no longer be permitted to continue with natural gas exploration without the permission of Turkish Cyprus, Turkey recognized northern Turkish Cyprus’ Prime Minister said.

In an interview with Greek Kathimerini newspaper published early February, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Greek Cypriots of conducting“unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the eastern Mediterranean”. He also added that “Turkish Cypriots, as co-owners of the island, have inalienable rights to the natural resources around it.

On the other hand, Sadıklar Aslan points out that energy projects in the Mediterranean may strengthen economic and political ties and all parties should adopt a new perspective rather than focusing on disputes regarding gas exploration. Sadıklar Aslan also underlines that both Turkey and the EU are reliant on imports for their energy needs and have to tackle the risks of being dependent on single or few suppliers.

“Turkey and the EU share many of the same energy challenges. Both are lacking in domestic fossil fuel resources and are therefore reliant on imports for a significant portion of their energy needs. Natural gas poses the most pressing issue as Turkey and the EU remain heavily dependent on a single supplier, Russia. In 2016, Turkey imported 24.5 billion cubic meters (bcm) or 52.94 percent of its natural gas from Russia. The EU, by contrast, receives 39.5 percent of its gas imports from Russia, which – while lower than Turkey – conceals the fact that many EU countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, rely on Russia for close to 100 percent of their natural gas needs. Dependency on a single or few suppliers increases the risk of political and technical disruptions and decreases importers’ leverage”.

Moreover, both Turkey and the EU are in a position to take advantage of the increase in liquefied natural gas following the shale revolution in the US. Renewable energy is also another common ground for the parties as a way of decreasing import dependency, according to Sadıklar Aslan.

‘The common energy challenges and existing geopolitical problems should be seen as opportunities to enhance cooperation. Indeed, energy is one of the few areas where Turkey and the EU have continued their cooperation without interruption despite the political tensions, which is a testament to the strong mutual interests.”

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