Interview on 13 July 2015 by Katrin Schmermund, Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences, Jean Monnet Chair (JMC) at the University of Cologne
Rising energy demands and a high dependence on Russian gas: This situation makes European countries look for new and better ways to secure their energy supply. Turkey can play a central role in that, explains Prof Atila Eralp, research associate of the project "Turkey's Potential as Future Energy Hub". In his interview, he talks about Turkish energy politics and conditions for Turkey to become a key player in the international energy market.
Prof. Atila Eralp, you are engaged in the Blickwechsel research project "Turkey's Potential as Future Energy Hub" – what makes this topic of particular scientific interest?
Turkey has a high demand for energy, which it cannot satisfy through national resources. It depends on imports. The EU member states have the same problem. Different from them, Turkey has a unique geopolitical position to connect major energy consumers (EU member states) and suppliers (countries of the Caspian Region and the Middle East). This gives the country an important role as an energy transit state and makes the energy issue one of the central topics in the Turkey-EU-
You call Turkey a "transit state". What characteristics distinguish the country from being an "energy hub"?
In order to be a hub, a country needs to have certain leverage on the energy market. It also needs significant infrastructure and to diversify its energy imports. Probably even more important is that you need to have transparency in your administration. This means that it must follow the rule of law, which is the legal system, to attract international investors. They are important for the establishment of an energy infrastructure, such as the net of pipelines. The country also needs to have a good relationship to its neighbours and a peaceful neighbourhood. In the case of Turkey there are all kinds of challenging issues, which is a major reason for the Energy Chapter of the Turkish accession process to be still closed.
How do you estimate the chance that it will get opened in the near future?
This is hard to say, because it depends on many factors, such as domestic developments in Turkey and its relations to other countries, such as Cyprus, which does not want to support the opening of the Energy chapter due to its troubled relation to Turkey. Also, there are critical aspects in the field of neighbourhood policy.
What should Turkey do?
Turkey should orientate towards both Europe and the Turkish neighbourhood. But, Turkey has the challenge of being in the middle of two geopolitical models. On the one hand there is the EU, acting on the rule of law, and on the other side, there is Russia, acting in an authoritarian way as manifested in the Ukraine crisis. Turkey is trying to connect to both models: to the EU with the Southern Gas Corridor and to Russia via the Turkish Stream. We have to see, how this will be compatible.
Do you see Turkey bonding more to one than the other side?
At the moment, I do not, but when it comes to gas, the main producer is Russia and Turkey is depending on this. The competition between Russia and Europe creates a challenge for Turkey: Turkey could get more and more pressure from these two sides. The development of this tensioned situation will among others depend on the further development of the Turkey-EU-approach through the accession process. As long as the Energy Chapter remains closed, the situation is getting more complicated for Turkey.
What advantages would Turkey have from becoming an energy hub?
The best advantage is that Turkey would become an important player in the energy market. As a transit state, a country is like a bridge, it is just connecting. If it is a hub, it has a certain voice and leverage. Since Turkey does not have energy resources, it would be very interesting for it to become a hub.
In how far do Turkey's interests in energy issues differ from those of the EU?
A difference lies in renewables: In the EU, there is a big focus on renewables, while in Turkey the potential of renewable energy resources is neglected. Despite that, both depend too much on Russia's resources. Also for both Turkey and the EU, gas is more important than oil for the time being, while oil is becoming more important.
All problems of Turkey's domestic and neighbourhood policies taken aside: Has Turkey the necessary infrastructure for functioning as an energy hub?
Not right now, but if there is more freedom in the neighbourhood, it will be easier to establish the necessary infrastructure. Investors and also the European Investment Bank will be more interested. Turkey definitely has the potential to become a hub.
In June, we had parliamentary elections in Turkey. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost its absolute majority, but still got most seats, followed by the Republican People's Party (CHP). What influence do this election result and the recently failed coalition talks between AKP and CHP have on the Turkey-EU relationship in Energy?
The failed coalition talks bring uncertainty for the energy relationship between Turkey and EU. If you want to become a hub, you need to have political stability and a coalition is a means to provide it in a politically polarized environment. Although there were other alternatives to form a majority coalition government, the political rift in the country made it problematic right from the start. Turkey-EU relations may further stagnate if this polarization continues even after the early elections. The outcome can have an influence on whether the politicians would connect more or less to Russia. Turkey for instance connects to Russia through nuclear energy, which raises criticism from the opposition and their voters.
Prof Eralp, the Blickwechsel project runs until 2016 – what are the main milestones in the question of Turkey being a future energy hub up to this date?
The main milestones are the developments in Turkey and its neighbourhood. In Turkey, we need more political stability and an effective government. Voters voted in a quite mature way; they want to stop a rising political polarisation. A coalition government would invigorate more compromise culture in Turkey and hence strengthen its future hub strategy. In the neighbourhood, the basic challenge is building a coalition against radical movements like the Islamic State. Here, the EU and Turkey should do more and foster a strong coalition. Also, they should cooperate with the US in this rising security problems. There is a need for an involvement of regional actors, the EU, the US and also Russia. The best would be a big world coalition, because the Islamic State is a global threat.
Thank you very much for this interview, Prof Eralp.
Atila Eralp is director of the Center for European Studies at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, since 2012 as Jean Monnet Professor. Furthermore, he is lecturing at the Turkish-German University (TDU) in Istanbul and had been Visiting Professor at Princeton University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and just recently in July 2015 at the University of Cologne. His research focus lies on Turkey-EU relations and Turkish foreign policy.
On 8 June 2015, Atila Eralp held a visiting lecture on the outcomes of the parliamentary elections in Turkey at the University of Cologne. In his speech, the scientist analysed the domestic as well as external political consequences of the AK's loss of its absolute majority.