Dr. Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu* Natural Gas for Europe
Ankara’s geography can help boost European energy security
An expert in European geopolitics in the Department of International Relations and the EU at Turkey’s Izmir University of Economics, Dr. Mehmet Efe Biresselioglu contended that there were some basic problems with European energy policy.
“The political reality of the European Union changes when it is faced with energy issues,” he explained. “The EU is divided into two different poles: there are the national decision making centers on one hand, and the EU institutions with powerful transnational political resources on the other. So basically in spite of the liberal inter-governmental setting, and fully integrated political policies, these two different poles mean that the EU is divided over a common energy policy.
“The main obstacle to progress in energy policy is basically the various preferences of the member states, all of which have their different domestic energy resources, different energy requirements and large, state-owned, monopolistic energy industries. All the states have different preferences.”
According to Dr. Biresselioglu, who has recently published a book entitled European Energy Security: Turkey’s Future Role and Impact, Turkey’s geography and geopolitical position are transforming the country into an energy transit hub for the transport of hydrocarbon resources from neighboring regions to the EU. The countries in the greater Caspian sea region, he said, which bore a significant amount of oil and gas, offered a special alternative to the EU which is looking to increase its energy security.
Professor Biresselioglu described the “greater Caspian sea region” as Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – all of the littoral countries, plus Iraq, Uzbekistan, Georgia, Turkey, since these countries were strongly affected by the energy regime, either as producers or as consumers, or transit routes.
“These countries must be included to understand the dynamics of the region,” he said.
He explained that the greater Caspian region had become one of the world’s most promising regions for oil and natural gas investment and had been the focus of intense international competition for access and pipeline routes.
Biresselioglu recalled that some of the countries there had encountered problems in the 1990s after gaining their independence from the Soviet Union, things like ethnic division, stability and geopolitical contests in the region, which had created concerns for neighboring countries. Today, however, things were different.
In terms of oil and gas, Biresselioglu describes Europe’s growing dependence on external resources, while it has become the European Union’s objective to diversify its sources of energy.
“So basically the greater Caspian region stands as a great opportunity for the EU. The main idea here is that the main efforts of Europe are to secure its supply, diversification of the routes and sources and the reliability of supply also.”
He continued, “Turkey’s position could further enhance the EU’s interests in that region, in the Middle East and in Northern Africa as well. The country offers a safe transit route for these resources.”
Biresselioglu said that Turkey’s role was increasing, as a solid regional power, and its active foreign policy could further expand the EU’s reach into North Africa and the Middle East to find other supplies and routes, such as Qatar, for example.
“Turkey could contribute to the proposed European strategy of securing its supply by diversifying resources and decreasing its dependence on supplies from Russia. The EU’s energy policy decisions could well be influenced by Turkey’s geopolitical location, on the one hand, and the energy resources in Turkey’s neighboring region, on the other. As a result, the greater Caspian sea region emerges as a major alternative for European energy security, with the recent pipeline developments especially. So Turkey represents a geopolitical opportunity for the EU to reach these hydrocarbon reserves.”
Finally, he added that Turkey could also contribute European influence into that region, as the country is going through the process of Europeanization. The steady flow of energy from the greater Caspian region, he said, would depend on the political and economic stability of the producer regions. “Turkey could play an important role here for the European Union.”
According to Biresselioglu, the European natural gas pipeline projects Nabucco, supported by Brussels, and South Stream, supported by Moscow, were not really in competition but more or less running the same route. Support for Nabucco, he explained, was coming from European institutions.
“Nabucco is a good opportunity for the EU to start a common energy policy, because it’s bypassing Russia; also the sources of gas for Nabucco are different for fulfilling the pipeline. But the main problem is that up to now only Azerbaijan has committed iself to Nabucco as a source, but it’s also committing itself to White Stream and there’s an LNG development.”
He said he didn’t believe that Azerbaijan would be able to fill all of the projects it had committed its natural gas supplies to. Sources, he added, were the bigger problem for Nabucco than any policy issue.
“They are talking about the inclusion of Iraq, which has a good amount of natural gas reserves, but still it may take 10 years to develop these fields. There is also talk of gas from Egypt, but it doesn’t have that much to export,” explained Biresselioglu.
“For Nabucco, the main option would be Iran. There are problems because of the sanctions against Iran, but I guess in the future Iranian gas could fulfill the need and be a good option for the European Union to diversify its needs.”
Biresselioglu added that the investment for exploring and extracting natural gas would be good for Iran, something the country is eager to develop. According to him, the gas pipeline from Iran to Erzurum in Turkey is only using one quarter of its capacity, so it would be possible to connect it with Nabucco as well.
Another source of gas for Nabucco could be Turkmenistan, but a trans-Caspian pipeline would need to be built, something opposed by Russia.
South Stream, meanwhile, would run a similar route, but bypass Ukraine and Turkey, he said.
“It’s more important for the Russian side, because energy security not only contains security of supply but also includes the notion ‘security of demand’. In order for Russia to secure its demand, South Stream is a good option. Today Russia has the biggest natural gas reserves in the world and will always be in the picture in Europe, because we must always remember that the European Union is Russia’s largest consumer market. So the construction of the pipeline is to protect its market share in the European gas market.”
Biresselioglu said he believed the realization of South Stream was more likely than Nabucco, because the gas supplies available to it were assumed. “Long term supply contracts are the guarantee of pipeline construction due to the massive investment needed. The Russian long-term contracts with the European countries make the pipeline more feasible.
“South Stream’s larger capacity is likely to contribute more to European gas supply in the short term, but these are not competing pipelines: Nabucco stands as an option to diversify sources; South Stream stands to diversify the route, because the source may be the same but it bypasses Turkey and Ukraine, to lessen the risk of supply when there are disputes with Russia.”
In terms of Europe’s unconventional gas potential, and how domestically produced shale gas in places like Poland could contribute to European energy security, Dr. Biresselioglu said:
“I think this gas could be an important part of the equation, but rather in the mid to long term: from 10-20 years. In the short term it won’t have immediate impact due to recent environmental concerns and unidentified market structure.”
“Natural gas is the cleanest form of hydrocarbon,” he asserted. “It continues to increase in the EU consumption matrix and the EU’s share of proven reserves is only around 2% and natural gas accounts for 25-26% of the EU’s total energy consumption. It has been importing more than 60% of its natural gas consumption and this is expected to increase in the future. Europe will definitely need more natural gas and how can it be achieved without becoming more dependent on Russia? It should look for alternative routes and alternative sources.”
“Europe needs to use all of its options – South Stream as well,” he continued, “because it needs natural gas. And maybe in the next decade it will have better relations with Iran, which is likely to be the next big natural gas exporter of the world.”
Biresselioglu added, “Shale gas, unconventional gas will certainly take part as well in the mid term.”
*Dr. Mehmet Efe Biresselioğlu is Vice Dean, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences and Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations and the EU, Izmir University of Economics