Even though a tightly contested referendum granting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wide new powers after a major overhaul of the country’s political system may cause tensions with the European Union, it is unlikely to affect energy relations between Brussels and Ankara.
Constantinos Filis, director of research at Institute of International Relations, told New Europe on April 20 that nothing concrete will change in Turkish politics in the short term. “Erdogan remains the most powerful figure and the opposition cannot unite against him. However, in the medium to long term, unless president Erdogan takes initiatives to bring down internal tensions, a divided Turkey will be more vulnerable to destabilising dynamics. Therefore, Turkey needs to remain a stable and credible partner for its allies but also for energy companies, which count on it as a crucial link of the energy chain,” Filis said.
Still, the more EU-Turkey relations deteriorate, the more the country’s profile as a potential energy transit hub is damaged. “But despite the escalating rhetoric and the realisation that Brussels and Ankara diverge, at the end of the day they will seek a modus operandi based on common interests, energy being one of them,” Filis said.
The EU is increasingly relying on Turkey, which is a key part of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), as it strives to lessen Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. Filis warned, however, that if tension between Brussels and Ankara persists long-term, then Europeans will start wondering if it is wise to depend on Turkey as its southern “energy lung”. “In that direction, delivering Eastern Mediterranean natural gas via Turkey is a choice with many complications and should in any case be dropped off the table,” he said.
Asked about the Russian-backed Turkish Stream pipeline’s extension to Europe, Filis said Turkey is not the main obstacle for the time being. He was referring to the EU’s objections to the project since it would not provide a new source of gas. “If you mean the Turkish Stream as a new project linking Russia and Turkey, much will depend on how bilateral relations evolve. Syria is the big test for them,” Filis said. “In any case, Ankara’s thirst for natural gas make Turkish Stream seem a necessity, unless it secures quantities from other suppliers, which based on nowadays realities is not very probable.”
Meanwhile, Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management in London, told New Europe that Turkey is in a crucial position for Europe, highlighting the EU’s migrant deal with Turkey. He noted, however, that he doubts that EU-Turkey energy relations would change. He said Turkey needs the transit fees and Europe needs Turkey as an energy partner. “Turkey actually does need to work more closely and stop being so aggressive with the rest of Europe and equally Europe needs to accept, whether they like Erdogan or not, that actually he is the bloke they’ll have to deal with for the foreseeable future,” the London-based analyst said.
Urquhart Stewart urged both sides to support each other, noting that Turkey is the bulwark against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the instability in Syria. “If Turkey is made to look weaker that will only encourage the difficulties on their borders and that, of course, will also encourage the relationship with Turkey and Russia,” he added.
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