ANALYSIS – Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP): A new cooperation format between EU, Turkey and Azerbaijan

By Deniz Unsal/Anadolu Agency

The final segment of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC), the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is now in service, and for the first time in history, Azerbaijani gas has reached Europe. On the one hand, TAP is a big leap for Turkish, European and global energy supply security. Given that Turkey has the highest rate of growing energy demand among the countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), TAP would truly serve Turkey’s objectives pertaining to route and source diversification of oil and natural gas imports. Moreover, it would also contribute to the actualization of the 2030 United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Agenda. TAP, on the other hand, will bring about a convergence of interests between Azerbaijan, Turkey and the EU. Maintaining the European energy supply security through TAP will both decrease Europe’s import dependency on Russia and the dependency of the Western Balkans on locally-sourced coal. [1] Combining the lucrative advantages of the Azerbaijani gas and the promising nature of the Turkish gas infrastructure and marketplace, the Turkish-Azerbaijani front will definitely offer a fresh field of cooperation for the EU.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev praised the completion of TAP by stating that this historic achievement “lays the foundation for a new cooperation format in the future”. Such a cooperation format would be in the transportation sector, trade and other areas, he added. Prof. Michael Tanchum at this point reminds of the significance of the 2010 Strategic Partnership Agreement between Turkey and Azerbaijan, which followed Russia’s subversive war with Georgia in 2008, as a driving force of this SGC success. Undoubtedly, having modernized and deepened its energy strategy, Turkey will also be the backbone of this cooperation. Overall, thanks to Turkish-Azerbaijani fraternity and their rational foreign policy priorities, this newly-established equilibrium should encourage all parties to consolidate their ties.

Energy supply security and Europe

In the simplest terms, energy supply security means the availability of sufficient energy supplies at an affordable price. According to the definition of the European Commission, the uninterrupted nature of energy is also taken into account. It has long been known that the EU has been coordinating the de-regulation of the European energy market since 1997, in opposition to Russian domination and unilateralism in the market, which have significantly restricted the EU’s re-exportation of Russian gas. An EU investigation into the Russian company Gazprom’s contractual limitations, which limited the ability of Gazprom‘s European customers to re-sell/re-export Russian gas across the border, was subsequently initiated in 2012. While these rules (“destination clauses”) have been repealed by Gazprom and the market has been de-regulated, the Union and its members are still pursuing diversification of routes and sources in order to preserve the security of the European energy supply.

TAP: Cultivating diplomatic and political ties with Europe

Following Armenia’s historic defeat in November 2020, Azerbaijan has once again proven itself to be an irreplaceable non-EU European actor. The settlement of a “frozen conflict” by diplomacy and the use of force under the right to self-defense has consolidated the security, security and credibility of Azerbaijan as both a diplomatic player and a trustworthy energy supplier. EU-Azerbaijan ties offer a promising future under the European Neighborhood Policy and its eastern regional dimension, the Eastern Partnership,  in light of President Aliyev’s political agenda on integration with Euro-Atlantic organizations, capitalizing on Azerbaijani gas will both deepen this strategic partnership and establish alternative areas of cooperation that could mitigate the drawbacks issuing from the ongoing disagreements. The rapprochement of Azerbaijan with Italy, an EU member state, can be given as a solid example in this regard.

In an opinion piece for TRT World, Ilker Sezer, the international news editor of the Hurriyet daily, lucidly reveals that Italy, an EU member state, has been cultivating strong relations with Azerbaijan and will be TAP’s biggest buyer. Apparently, this “strategic partnership” also came to fruition in the political and diplomatic spheres because, as Sezer points out, Italy did not declare the Minsk Group (which the Aliyev administration was right to exclude from diplomatic exchanges) in the joint declaration. Thus, Italy has crystallized its position to frame the Minsk Group as ineffective, reminiscent of Aliyev’s reiterations. Indeed, the Italian example clearly illustrates that the EU and its members must achieve mutual understanding with Azerbaijan in order to realize their long-term goals of diversifying the energy supply chains of the EU member states, as the circle tightens for Europe under the threat of a Russian-dominated gas market. In this regard, it will be of paramount importance to pay attention to the Turkish and Azerbaijani efforts to protect the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan.

On the flipside, Caner Can, energy advisor to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in response to the ill-fated social media comments aimed at underestimating Turkey’s well-rounded energy strategy and gas infrastructure, points out that TAP is not a stand-alone pipeline, but the last part of a $45-billion value chain. That is why Turkey has thematized its importance in European energy supply security by promoting the slogan “TurKEY for Energy”.  Indeed, the pipeline represents the European segment of the SGC and connects with the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) at the Turkish-Greek border. It is also worth noting that 30% of the EU-member Greece’s natural gas has been supplied via Turkey since 2007. These facts herald the emergence of a new ground that could potentially contribute to Turkey and Azerbaijan’s increasing bargaining power over the EU. Under these circumstances, if the EU leadership prefers to remain silent on the dual role of Turkey and Azerbaijan in curbing the Russian resurgence in the European energy market, it will definitely lose another front against Russia. Similarly, deepening the outstanding crises between Turkey and the Union by displaying such hesitancy and reluctance would not be a sensible policy.

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