(by Eli Lovely)
With gas from the Caspian Sea set to move from the Southern Caucasus to Europe through Turkey by 2019, the EU-candidate country is destined to evolve into a more robust economic and political power.
Turkey’s reputation as a haven of stability in an otherwise fragile region of the world has contributed, at least partly, to its “China-like” growth in recent years. Despite governance issues, a 2012 economic slowdown, and the momentous protests that swept Anatolian city centers this summer, Turkish economic institutions remain sound and capable of further development. Plans for the Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), and the subsequent blossoming of further pipeline plans pumping gas out of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Egypt, and Iraq to Europe, raise Turkey’s stature as a major energy transit country. Such plans are bound to elevate the country’s future economic outlook.
As a result, Turkey is primed to replace Ukraine as the major European energy transit country. While gas from Iran remains a farfetched idea given the current political climate, Turkey is nonetheless well positioned to pump supply from the world’s second largest reserves should political dynamics shift. Moreover, Turkey is well aware of its special geostrategic position. At one point, Turkey made special demands regarding the procurement of gas from the Southern Caucasus at a price lower than that for Europe. Regional energy producing states from Central Asia to the Middle East seeking to target the European market understand Turkey’s importance and may be willing to bend slightly to accommodate Turkish preferences.
The EU should take heed of Turkey’s vast potential as a center of energy transit due to enlightened self-interest. The drawn-out EU accession process, combined with EU financial troubles, undermined any leverage the EU had over Turkey in years prior. Turkey’s ruling AKP party, having skyrocketed to prominence with promises of EU membership, remains dominant, thereby diminishing the need to rely on the EU accession process for political means. An authentic gesture of cooperation, however, and an offer of progress – perhaps even establishing a viable entry date – between Brussels and Ankara could restore Turkey’s EU-accession ambitions.
These ambitions are closely linked to Turkey’s process of democratic consolidation. The EU’s political capital and the cross-border diffusion of democratic principles have already enhanced Turkey’s democracy in significant ways, particularly over the past decade. Europe remains well positioned to buttress governance reform, for example, by implementing programs to soften tensions around the Kurdish issue, closely monitoring the upcoming constitutional reform process, and finding ways to alleviate the highly antagonistic nature of Turkish party politics.
Additionally, Prime Minister Erdogan’s political aspirations are directly tied to Turkey’s economic performance, which slowed dramatically in 2012. After a prolonged period of rapid economic growth, Turkey is ripe for productivity-enhancing governance and institutional reform in line with EU standards. Strong incentives to revive Turkey’s EU accession process – if only for the sake of future energy security – exist for both sides. Closer EU-Turkey ties go beyond energy security and robust economics, however. A Turkey closely linked with, if not a member of, the EU could in many ways stabilize a tumultuous region of the world and provide neighbors to the South and the East with a source of inspiration, motivating their own economic and political development. Democratic stability – rather than autocratic stability – will see Turkey reach its political and economic potential, improving prospects for strong energy ties and peace.
The quicker the EU can welcome Turkey, the better off both parties are. However, opposition to Turkish EU membership from Germany and France, as well as Turkey’s demonstrated ability to perform well independently of membership, has diluted Turkey’s enthusiasm for the EU generally. Between 2004 and 2010, Turkish public opinion in favor of EU membership dropped 35 percent. As of 2012, only 41 percent of Turks were in favor of their country becoming a member. Still, the fact that EU accession talks persisted this summer despite the Gezi Park protests perhaps indicates a shifting of European attitudes in Turkey’s favor. Hopefully this willingness to renew discussions on the part of the EU is not too little, too late.
This piece is cross-posted from Oil Price.com with permission.