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Global Turkey in Europe

05/12/2013, London

Turkey is central for European energy interests. It is not only a significant energy consumer, but it is also at the heart of energy geopolitics, being a central transit state located at the intersection of the east-western and north-southern energy corridors in the Mediterranean and Eurasia. In light of this, the Stiftung Mercator, the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), the Istanbul Policy Center, and the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) organized a conference on how the EU and Turkey can enhance their cooperation in the energy sector.

The first panel, chaired by Nona Mikhelidze from IAI delved into Turkish-European energy relations. The session was opened by Nicolò Sartori (IAI) and David Koranyi (Atlantic Council) who presented their paper on EU-Turkish Energy Relations in the Context of EU Accession Negotiations. He highlighted that the energy card, is - or better, has been - clearly perceived as an important negotiation card by Turkey vis-à-vis the European Union. They highlighted the necessity for the EU to remain committed to the region, analyzing the potential role of Turkey as a strategic energy actor in the Eurasian region and pointing out that Azerbaijan is indisputably in the driving seat for the development of the Southern Corridor. Mehmet Doğan Üçok from the Istanbul International Center for Energy and Climate presented his paper on The Potential Role of Turkey in a Globalising Gas Market. He provided a broader picture of Turkey’s energy situation, both at the internal and regional level, and questioned the viability of the Southern Corridor as a solution for ensuring European energy security. Dimitar Bechev, Senior Policy Fellow at ECFR, focused on the different energy challenges facing Turkey. The stability of energy provision is certainly one of the main concerns for a big consumer like Turkey and can be ensured not only through infrastructure development but also through reliable regulatory changes in the Turkish energy system. The interests of Turkey and the EU – he argued - may overlap on issues such as energy sector reform and consumer protection.

The second panel on the role of Turkey as a regional energy hub was chaired by Ahmet Evin, Senior Scholar at the Istanbul Policy Center. Saban Kardas from TOBB University of Economics and Technology contextualized the concept of “energy hub”, highlighting that interpretations of key notions substantially differ among officials and experts. Analyzing the potential role of Turkey as a regional energy hub, he highlighted that the introduction of a number of internal liberalization measures represents a step in the right direction. However, the lack of clear regulations on energy transit and import licenses as well as the still significant amount of public participation in the energy market may endanger the achievement of this strategic objective for Turkey. Ayla Gurel from the PRIO Cyprus Centre added a regional viewpoint to this, arguing that Turkey’s energy ambitions and hopes have been significantly dampened due to its unremittingly conflictual relationship with the Republic of Cyprus. According to Gurel, the gas game in the Mediterranean has exacerbated rather than appeased the sovereignty debate and thus turned the controversy on hydrocarbon exploration into a zero-sum game. Giacomo Luciani from the Geneva Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies wrapped up the debate by stressing once again the multifaceted nature of energy. He analyzed the nature of relations between energy and conflicts, highlighting that political tensions can be overcome by business and economic interests. Moving to Turkey’s ambition to become a regional energy hub, he pointed out that the realization of adequate domestic energy grids and infrastructure is a first essential step to achieve this goal.

The conference ended with a wider reflection by Nathalie Tocci from IAI on the role of Turkey in Europe and the global scene. The discussion had shown that Turkey is bound to occupy an ever more significant role as an international player in the energy sector. Yet, simultaneously, this trend implies that Turkey will likewise be increasingly exposed to and affected by global and regional trends. The way Turkey will react to external forces and subsequently orient its global positioning still remains to be determined.