Turkey energy interests in EU

The role of Turkey in European energy policy: Pipe dreams or Real Pipe?Turkey commands an obvious and unique geostrategic significance for the Euro-Atlantic community, and as an influential player located at the intersection of the Black and Mediterranean Seas, the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus region, and GCS, is at the center of the Western attention. The country possesses the almost 75 million population with the majority of Muslims. After the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, the EU has tried to bring Turkey as a major energy interconnector out to the international stage in terms of its increasing role in the energy sector. Although Turkey lacks its own energy reserves, as a good transit state it can potentially build a mtuually beneficial relationship withthe EU through the rational use of energy resources transported by alternative pipelines in variousregions. Like Russia, Turkey as an important player bearing certain influence on the European affairs has a complicated, both cooperative and confrontational relationship with the European Union, but compared to Russia it wants (or at least does not claim the opposite) to be the part of the Euro-Atlantic Security Community. 

Bearing in mind these geopolitical implications, Turkey has chosen the security of energy as one of its main policy priorities. The geostrategic position provides Turkey with access to different geographical locations wealthy with energy resources. Although Turkey has negligible proven oil and gas deposits, it strives to gain more access to diversified energy resources in order to meet its domestic and economic demands. Therefore, Turkey has taken some geostrategic steps aimed at reducing its energy vulnerability and ensure secure and diversified supplies.1

According to the 2010-2014 Strategic Plan by the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources2, Turkey has several major goals as to enabling itself to preserve energy security in the country. Currently, Turkey’s dependency on foreign investors in the energy field accounts for 74%, at the same time, its energy demands are expected to increase by up to 4% annually until 2020. Another aim is to search for secure and reliable cooperation in order to cope with the problems regarding tanker accidents in the Turkish Straits which represent huge threats to the human life and can cause environmental pollution as well as degradation. Generally, Turkey’s interests are multi-sided in terms of both domestic and foreign policy issues. It is apparent that the diversification of not only supplies, but also source countries is one of the Turkish government’s main goals. It tends to get energy resources at affordable prices and ensure successful transition to alternative energy sources in order to reduce the volume of dependence on fossil fuel domestically. 

In October 2016, the 23rd Anniversary event of the World Energy Congress was hosted by Turkey. The 23rd World Energy Congress brought the future significance of energy security to the attention of political and economic leaders around the world. As the main goal, seeking options for delivering sustainable energy system on national, regional and global levels was specifically underlined.


EU energy interests in Turkey

Amid the shadow of the Cold War period, Western countries mainly shaped their energy policies and interests in the direction of gaining broad access to the oil resources rather than providing their diversification of energy sources and maintaining energy security for the future generation, so that currently they are facing this kind of challenges. During that time, the Western countries were utterly interested in the rich hydrocarbons resources in the Middle East region. However, the political challenges, disputes and oil crises gave the impetus to Western countries to take decisive steps toward their future energy security. The conflicts bearing severe implications for the energy regime of the Middle Eastern countries revealed that those resources were deceitfully dispersed.3 

After the end of the Cold War period, the Western countries came to fully realize how important a role the Middle East plays in the formulation of their energy policies. At the same time, this region possesses a huge amount of oil reserved areas and any arduous situation or any shifts in the geopolitics of the Middle East sooner or later will impact on the Western energy matrix. Therefore, taking into consideration  those changes and political challenges,  the EU launched the Southern dimension of ENP program which mainly focusses on strengthening the relations with not only the Middle East, but also North African countries (MENA countries).4 This so-called Barcelona process mainly related to these countries to take new actions and steps toward close relations between the EU and MENA countries.  

The EU should already have understood that there cannot beany direct open gateway to the Middle East resources without the involvement of Turkey. The latter, as  the main buffer zone or a bridge, is much closer to the Middle Eastern countries, not only geographical proximity but also due to traditional sociocultural ties between them. The havoc that had spread in Syria, Libya, Iraq and other regional nations, demonstrated the EU’s inability to handle the problems in this region, much to the detriment of the EU’s credibility in this region. It turned out that in general, the South Caucasus destination is much more promising than the Middle Eastern resource strategy in terms of secure transportation.

Most importantly, Turkey has a pivotal role in the European energy policy that has an open connection not only to the greater Caspian hydrocarbon reserves but also energy resources in the Middle East. Furthermore, Turkey can assist Europe in diversifying its gas supplies from the Middle East and North Africa. Turkey has started to play a crucial role in the European energy security since it is at the crossroads between East and West, and North and South.  Hereby, it can be stated that Turkey energy policy is shaped around taking the role of a transit route and an energy hub in the East-West energy trade between GCS region, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.5 

Furthermore, Europe has recently entered into the new energy era. The EU natural gas consumption were expected to increase from 438 Bcm/y in 2005 to 625 Bcm/y in 2030.6 Thus, increasing demand for energy forces the EU countries to undertake new actions and formulate new future energy policy by taking into consideration the promising energy pipelines contracts. It is expected that for upcoming decades, almost 60-70% of European oil and natural gas needs will be provided by third countries which are not members of the EU. 

The main problems the EU  is currently facing are to  maintain the security of its supplies and the lack of diversity in the energy resources, due to its dependency on external suppliers, especially Russia. The EU is the major importer of the Russian gas, but it is well aware that Russia uses its energy supplier status as a strategic new weapon against the Western countries. (this has been quite clear during the Ukranian conflict). There is no guarantee that Russia will keep on providing the EU with energy resources reliably. Therefore, the EU is searching for new energy counterparts that will offer flexible long-term contracts to the European countries. The existing or planned pipelines in the Middle East and North Africa, the GCS region could enhance the supply of oil and natural gas to  Europe. It is realized in the EU that there are many possibilities and advantages to access alternative energy supplies in the mentioned regions. Turkey as an energy bridge has offered to construct new gas pipelines to EU states concerning how and via which routes the EU can get access to the possible alternative energy resources. Here are the hypothetical four gas pipeline projects offered to the EU member states.7 Turkey formulated offers for EU states via which routes or pipelines the EU can deal with its diversification problem and meet with its increasing energy needs. 

By taking into account these four hypothetical gas pipeline projects, gas transport to Europe via Turkey may account for 43 Bcm per year, at 6.5% of the European gas imports up to 2030, if only with the functioning of both Turkey-Greece-Italy interconnections wih 12 Bcm annual capacity of gas supply and the Nabucco Pipeline project constituting for 31 Bcm annual capacity at full capacity.8 

The EU has formulated its common energy policy, and in general, common energy agendas of 2020, 2030 and 2050 aiming at diversifying its energy supplies and secure them for coming decades.9 Since the EU is facing the growing lack of the North Sea oil and natural reserves, it has a high dependency on external suppliers, mainly on Russian gas. Upon the demise of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the independent countries in the Caspian region opened up an opportunity to diversify energy pipelines that could benefit EU to meet its energy demands. In some way, there exist certain political challenges  in this region as well, since the influence Russia retains in the Caspian region is a factor the EU has to take into account when designing its policies here. It is anticipated that the role of Turkey in the European energy security will become more pivotal in terms of increasing amounts of oil and natural gas in transportation from the neighboring regions. In spite of some ups and downs between the EU and Turkey, the EU has still interests in making efforts to strengthen Turkish stance as a major energy transit country by supporting it and joining different energy-related projects namely Trans-European Energy Networks that will commit to the security of supplies. This project as an integral part of the EU will help to formulate its overall energy policy objectives with Turkey. 

To sum up, in spite of different political challenges within the international system, the EU  realizes its increasing energy demands and is concerned not only with diversifying its energy supplies through gaining broad access to alternative natural sources, but also securing its energy supplies for future generation. Turkey as a major energy hub is a reliable partner for the EU to benefit from the Middle East and North African energy resources in order to meet its demands adequately. In this situation, the EU understands pretty well it is still dependent on the Russian gas, but somehow tries to decrease its dependency for upcoming years from Russia by involvement in different gas pipeline projects with other non-member states, especially, Caspian-basin countries, Middle East and North African countries via the major broker, Turkey. In spite of political challenges and unstable economic and political climate in Turkey, its increasing role as a regional player is undeniable not only for the West, but other Asian countries, too. Turkey is still eager to take the dominance of energy hub in the regions, but in reality, all efforts to reach the goal depend on Turkey’s actions or measures to tackle its problems gradually. Otherwise, Turkey might not be the “good” transit state for the EU; it can be characterized as a “bad” transit state due to multiple political challenges, perplexing situation domestically and increasing insecurity in the country by the EU.




1. Heather Grabbe and Sinan Ülgen, The Way Forward for Turkey and the EU A Strategic Dialogue on Foreign Policy, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Policy Outlook, December 2010, pp 1-12. Available at: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/turkey_eu_policy1.pdf

2. The Republic of Turkey Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources, Strategic Plan (2010-2014), pp-1-45. Available at:  http://weg.ge/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Turkey-MINISTRY-OF-ENERGY-AND-NATURAL-RESOURCES-strategic-plan-2010-2014.pdf

3. Darmstadter, J. (2013). Recalling the Oil Shock of 40 Years Ago. pp-2-9. Available at: http://www.rff.org/files/sharepoint/WorkImages/Download/RFF-IB-13-06.pdf

4. Lehne, S. (2014). Time to reset the European Neighborhood Policy. Brussels: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Publications Department. pp-10-16. Available at: http://carnegieendowment.org/files/time_reset_enp.pdf

5. Winrow, G. (2011). Turkey: An Emerging Energy Transit State and Possible Energy Hub. The International Spectator, 46(3), pp.79-91

6. Bilgin, M. (2011). Energy Policy in Turkey: Security, Markets, Supplies and Pipelines. Turkish Studies, 12(3), pp.399-417

7. Tagliepietra, S. and Zachmann, G. (2015). Designing A New EU-Turkey Strategic Gas Partnership. 1st ed. Bruegel Policy Contribution, pp.2-11

8. Ibid 4

9. Energy. (2016). Energy Strategy - Energy - European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/en/topics/energy-strategy