Turkey hopes Nabucco pipeline will boost its EU bid
Strong opposition in several EU countries, particularly France, Germany and Austria, has delayed Turkey’s EU bid.Ankara -- A landmark agreement for a major pipeline to supply gas to Europe via Turkey has boosted hopes in Ankara that the project will strengthen the country's struggling bid to join the European Union.
"Turkey is an important partner in EU energy policies ... If you look even only from the perspective of energy, it is obvious that Turkey should become an EU member," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday as Turkey and four EU nations inked here a long-delayed accord to build the Nabucco pipeline.
The 3,300-kilometre (2,000-mile) conduit, planned to become operational in 2014, aims to reduce European reliance on Russian gas supplies following cut-offs that caused severe shortages in the middle of the winter.
The US-backed pipeline is planned to carry gas to Austria via Turkey and the Balkans, bypassing Russia, even though that uncertainty lingers on where the gas will come from, with Azerbaijan considered a primary possible supplier.
Bulgaria, Turkey's northwestern neighbour, Romania and Hungary are the other three EU participants.
"With the project, our country's natural gas infrastructure will be integrated with that of Europe and mutual solidarity will be possible in times of potential crisis," Erdogan said.
"I would like to remind you that as part of our accession negotiations, we have made great progress in aligning our energy market to EU's internal market norms," he said.
Erdogan spoke in the presence of European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, who attended the signing ceremony in Ankara in a show of EU support for the pipeline.
Barroso said the project "could open the door to a new era in relations between Turkey and the EU, and beyond."
A European Commission statement stressed Turkey's "key role" and "common strategic interest in strengthened cooperation."
In an interview with a Turkish daily, the EU's energy commissioner highlighted the deal's political ramifications on Turkey's bid to join the 27-member bloc.
"It is positive that Turkey and the EU discuss not only controversial issues but also manage to agree on a strategic project that is important for both of us," Andris Piebalgs told the English-language Daily News.
"There is also one important psychological effect: for the first time, millions of Europeans -- those who have suffered from gas shortages during the last winter -- will see Turkey as a major helper in their quest for energy security," he said.
Ironically, the energy chapter remains closed in Turkey's accession talks with the EU due to a veto by Cyprus, involved in a long-running conflict with Ankara.
Since winning the green light for accession talks in October 2005, Turkey has opened negotiations in only 11 of the 35 policy areas that candidates must complete.
Eight chapters remain frozen due to a trade row between Turkey and Cyprus, stemming from Ankara's refusal to endorse the Mediterranean island's internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government.
The process has been delayed also by strong opposition in several EU countries, particularly France, Germany and Austria, to the membership of a populous and relatively poor Muslim-majority country.
France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy is a vocal opponent of Turkey, has, for its part, blocked talks in five chapters which it deems to be directly linked to membership.