Today, I would like to write about developments concerning the Eastern Mediterranean and the gas issue. Since the beginning of 2019, there have been two important incidents that might have big geostrategic and energy market implications. These are the discovery of the third-largest natural gas resources off the southern coast of Cyprus by ExxonMobil and the creation of a regional energy forum in the Egyptian capital Cairo.
There is an obvious risk now that there will be several actors competing to exploit these new resources that will directly affect Turkey since the competition over exploitation may create new regional conflicts.
Let me point out that Turkey's hand concerning energy is quite strong: Turkey is a key player in the TurkStream project with Russia, the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline Project (TANAP) with Azerbaijan and the eastern Anatolia gas transmissions line with Iran. Turkey also wants to be a hub for energy in European markets.
However, Turkey is an importer of energy not an exporter, and the demand for energy is increasing. Thus, Turkey wants to diversify its energy sources. Its gas comes 50 percent from Russia and around 20 percent form Iran. Thus, Ankara is looking for new sources. This need is also an advantage for the U.S. since Washington doesn't want Ankara to be too dependent on Russia for energy.
So, looking at this picture, the discovery of large gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and the fact that pipelines via Turkey will be the most efficient way to transport the resources to Europe is a good opportunity for Ankara and Europe to search for similar gas markets. But the Cyprus issue stands in the way.
That is why Turkey's plan to drill for natural gas in the region raises tensions and draws rebukes from the EU and U.S. In fact, there are too many players and too many macroeconomic concerns over this issue, and much of the promise that natural gas could be the solution to geopolitical strife in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean has turned out to be hollow. The main complicating factor is the Cyprus issue. Gas has exacerbated the existing multi-decade conflict.
Turkey claims that Northern Cyprus has the right to drill in the area, but since Northern Cyprus is not recognized by most of the world, the issue deepens. We can say that gas is the latest vehicle for longstanding fights over the island that lead to the wider issue of double standards in the EU toward Turkey.
Can a solution be found? The answer lies in politics. If there is hope for EU-Turkey relations in the short run, it will affect this issue positively. But Cyprus has always been used as a tool against Turkey's membership in the EU. Now it is used to keep Turkey away from Eastern Mediterranean gas. If the EU process can return to a productive track, which is advantageous for both sides, there might be developments in the gas issue. So, excitement about EU membership should be encouraged again. Of course, Turkey should make further steps regarding the rule of law, but the EU should also give up its obviously sentimental and negative attitude toward Turkey.
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