Twenty-five years after the Barcelona Declaration, the Mediterranean regional states have come across several security, economic, and political challenges in which places the stability agenda of this declaration under direct threats. Furthermore, the recent Russian military operation in Ukraine and instabilities risen in the Balkan also poses newly emerging security, resource, and economic threats to all the European and Mediterranean regional states. Given that more than forty six percent of the European demand of natural gas is supplied by the Russian Federation, the future of the energy security procedures remains unclear in this region. The reliance of the majority of main industries in Europe on fossil fuels also portrays how vulnerable are these industrial states against these newly emerging resource security threats. In light of the above, this policy brief will provide a short background on the existing relationships, resource supplies, and collective actions amongst the European states and their regional counterparts in the Mediterranean; interpret the emerging challenges that may pose threats to the current fragile stability; and subsequently provide recommendations for the European Union policy makers to confront these security challenges. Seeing that, this policy brief will construct its analysis and recommendations on the East-Med1 issue, the EU relationship with Turkey, European Union’s provision of natural resources, as well as oversighting the inevitable impacts of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict on the analysis.
Based on the data presented by the European Commission, in 2021, more than forty six percent of the Extra EU consumption of natural gas were imported from Russia, more than nineteen percent from Norway, eleven percent from Algeria, six and four percent respectively from the USA and Qatar, and the remaining percentages from other sources.2 Given the above figures, Ukraine and Turkey remain the main transit hubs for the major supply of the Extra European Union’s natural gas demands. Having that figurative database aside, the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas fields in which were discovered by Italian petroleum companies provides an outstanding opportunity for the EU to move towards self-sufficiency in its natural gas demands. However, the natural gas field in the Eastern Mediterranean also had other non-European parties claiming for their own national shares. Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Cyprus alongside with Israel have also claimed for proportional shares. Although, the resources are sufficient enough for these states to share the extraction, but Turkey began to exploit its territorial disputes over Cyprus in favour of dominating the extraction procedure in the Eastern Mediterranean.3 With Turkey’s ambitions rising over these resources, other regional actors including Greece, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, and Italy formed a collective body and signed agreements over the extraction process of the Eastern Mediterranean natural gas fields and intentionally not inviting Turkey.
Seeing the above, Turkey began to expand its regional policy towards North Africa and signed a comprehensive agreement with the Libyan provisional government forming a strategic maritime alliance to disrupt any further developments of the East-Med project initiated by the other parties. Turkey sees this challenge as a potential threat in which disempowers Turkey’s capability in resuming its economic benefits from being a transit hub for EU’s provision of natural gas as well as its control over the East-Med resources. Moreover, the emergence of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict will subsequently drift the EU towards supplying its natural gas demands via different exporters such as Iran and Qatar in which Turkey will still play a vital role in this equation as a transit hub.4 Iran and Qatar have the largest natural gas resources combined in the absence of the Russian Federation’s natural gas supply in which privileges Turkey to exploit these power dynamics as the EU will eventually be required to increase its imports from the Persian Gulf. Thus, as a mediator state and a transit hub, the maintenance of normal economic, security, and diplomatic ties with Turkey is a vital requisite for the EU to guarantee its provision of natural gas and economic security in the absence of the East-Med pipeline initiative.
In presence of the Russian-Ukrainian military tensions on the northern borders of the EU potentially disrupting Russia’s export of natural gas to Europe, the EU must react pre-emptively and secure its provision of natural gas from the Persian Gulf. In order to make that provision feasible and operational, the EU is recommended to maintain the current ties with Turkey and strengthen its political relation with Erdogan through some minor concessions and economic initiatives. On the other hand, another strategy that the EU can employ is to invest in the East-Med pipeline initiative, however, this will be a time consuming, high risk, and unfeasible project due to three factors. First, the agreement between Israel, Cyprus, and Greece is an unstable agreement considering the economic weaknesses of Greece and Cyprus, and political instability of Israel. Second, Turkey is not willing to give up on its claims and will certainly disrupt any development in the East-Med pipeline initiative.5 Lastly, the US backed containment of Turkey is not a consistent and reliable policy; as Biden Administration has already stepped down from its initial stand on the East-Med initiative. Hence, the development of this initiative will have outstanding number of dependent factors in which will disrupt the progress of the project. Considering the above dependant factors, and through a liberal perspective of collective economic gain, the EU must find a diplomatic way to resolve the East-Med dispute by involving Turkey in the game.6 Leaving Turkey out of the equation of the East-Med can have destructive consequences and probable political and military tensions in which is not in favour of any of the Mediterranean parties.
The Eastern Mediterranean natural gas field is a potential for the EU to reduce its reliance on the forty six percent Russian supply of gas. In light of the recent events in Ukraine and unpredictable aggression of the Russian Federation, perhaps the East-Med collaboration with the involvement of Turkey can be the only way out for the EU to secure and fulfill its natural gas demands. However, as the project is nowhere near being functional, the Persian Gulf is the only realistic and operational option for the EU. Iranian and Qatari supply of natural gas through Turkey is the only feasible and viable scenario at this stage. Both scenarios in which Erdogan and Turkey plays a vital role in. Hence, with respect to the new ambitious and innovative agenda of the Joint Communication on the relationship with the Mediterranean neighbouring states, and considering the above scenarios mentioned in this policy brief; deescalating tensions and expanding diplomatic and economic ties with Turkey can provide the EU with the opportunity of guaranteeing its temporary supply of natural gas from the Persian Gulf as well as parallelly developing a long term agenda in the Eastern Mediterranean for future natural gas demands. This strategy can assist the EU to pursue with all five policy areas included in the Mediterranean agenda; 1) Human Development; 2) Strengthen Resilience; 3) Peace and security; 4) Migration and mobility; and 5) Energy and green transition. All in which cannot be pursued by excluding Turkey from the agenda.
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