by Lamprini Basdeki, MSc candidate on International Security and Law, University of Southern Denmark. Originally published on 2014/09/20
During the past years, the relationship between the European Union and Turkey has found itself in a relevant stability: there has been no development between the two and their relationship can be characterized as being in a coma. Despite the fact that the 22nd chapter of the acquis on regional policy was opened in November 2013, the two counterparts have not demonstrated any progress. The energy sector, however, and the recent developments concerning major gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as the increasing need of the European Union for secure energy supplies, are seen by a number of theorists as the key to the healing of the iced relationship between Turkey and EU (Koranyi & Sartori, 2014). Can Turkey be the solution to the energy demands of the European Union and can Turkey’s perspective membership be achieved with their assistance and cooperation in the energy sector?
The current situation between Turkey and the EU
The relationship between the two has been one of more than 60 years, while the candidacy status was only given in 2005. By the end of 2005, there have been tremendous changes from the part of the Turkish Republic when it comes to democratization. To be more specific, the country managed to shift completely from the Constitution of 1982 and to change in a reforms package form the legal framework on gender equality, death penalty, freedom of press and many others, which were considered a major breakthrough for Ankara but also for the Europeanization of the state (European Commission report, 2002). However, from 2005 onwards, the situation between both camps can be considered as frozen: there has been no progress without a hitch in order to achieve better cooperation between the two and the talks have been in the waiting room ever since. The only changes that are worth mentioning, are the opening of a new chapter (regional policy) during November 2013, as well as the adoption of the “Positive Agenda” (May 2012), which, in the absence of full membership, wishes to enhance cooperation in areas such as energy, foreign policy, fight against terrorism and participation in people-to-people programs (Müftüler-Baç, 2013).
The recent developments in the energy sector
The recent natural gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean and in particular of the Leviathan field in 2010 and the Aphrodite field in 2011 (offshore Israel and Cyprus respectively) have shifted the focus towards this particular region. The area has all the potential to become a provider of natural gas not only for Europe, but also for Turkey, given that there is a willingness to cooperate for the solution of the current political problems (Turkish Policy Quarterly, Bryza J., 2013). After the recent discoveries, the situation in Cyprus is also radically changing, with the pressure from the United States and the European Union being increased in order to achieve results in the area as soon as possible (Hurriyet Daily News, 2014).
From the part of the European Union, it is of great importance to achieve safe energy supplies and to decrease its current dependence on Russia, especially after the three-day-embargo imposed by the latter on Ukraine in 2006 and the shutting down of the pipelines for two weeks during 2009 (The Economist, 2014). At the moment, six out of ten member states depend on Russia’s natural gas for over 60% of their consumption (Kaysi, 2011), half of which is going through Ukraine. Besides, it seems that new corridors are being under quest from the part of the Union in order to achieve more energy options, as well as more stability for the safety of its citizens. Since the transfer risks are at an increase and the EU is in search of a fourth transit (it is currently receiving its energy supplies from the North Sea, North Africa and Russia), Turkey seems to be geographically the most suitable transit corridor.
The Turkish gas market
Turkey is one of the countries that have an extremely important geographical position. In addition to that, the increase of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) from 266 billion dollars in 2000 to 794 billion dollars in 2012 (Turkish Policy Quarterly, 2013) has made the country not only one of the largest economies in the world and a major player in the international system, but also a significant player in the field of energy. The energy needs of the country have increased to an annual growth rate of 9% (Bilmen, 2014), which have led Turkey to focus on natural gas and to the establishment of relationships with all the natural gas producing countries in the region, such as Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Iraq.
Membership perspectives and Turkey as a regional hub
Apart from the religio-cultural differences, the doubts on how democratic Turkey is and the rule of law, one of the main reasons that Turkey is not a part of the European Union at the moment is because Cyprus is blocking several chapters that are prohibiting the negotiations (Rinke & Solaker, 2013), one of which is the chapter of energy (Gullen & Mullen, 2014). The right negotiations and the willingness of strategic collaboration between Cyprus, Turkey and Israel can surely in the future bring about important partnerships which can eventually stabilize a region that has been through turmoil during the past 40 years. At the same time, it will change the relationship between Israel and Turkey which has not been one of the best during the past four years. In that sense, energy collaboration can in the long term affect the membership process positively.
Moreover, its possibility as a transit corridor for energy resources between the East and the West makes Turkey a possible energy hub for Europe. According to the European Commission, a possible Turkish accession could facilitate secure access and safe transportation of energy supplies to the European continent, since it would be the main corridor from the Caspian producers and also the Middle East.
It is of common understanding that it is in the hands of Turkey and the European Union to successfully negotiate all the 35 chapters of the EU acquis and of course to reform itself on a political level. It is the increasing European dependence on the energy resources deadlock though that can bring about a win-win situation for both. Since Turkey and its geographical position constitute a key to supply diversification it would be unwise from the European side to delay energy negotiations even further.
 The chapters of the acquis create the basis of the accession negotiations for each and every candidate country (35 in total). They correspond to different areas of the acquis for which reforms are necessary in order to meet the accession conditions (European Commission).