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Turkey could be left out in the cold over east Med gas finds

20 October 2013

The discovery of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean is said to be a potential game changer and will shift geo-political dynamics.

For a long time Turkey and Europe have been heavily reliant on Russia for its gas supplies; Turkey is Russia’s second largest customer for gas.

However, experts are warning that if Turkey does not make a shift in it’s foreign policies and change its attitudes, it will lose out in the hydrocarbons game and in the sphere of political influence.

Two moves it could make would be to make efforts to repair its relations with Israel, which has been assiduously courted by Greece and South Cyrus. Greece and South Cyprus recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel on cooperation in the field of hydrocarbons and electrical energy. In one week’s time, South Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Israel will be meeting in Israel to discuss policy, regulation and transportation logistics of hydrocarbons to supply the European market.

However, when South Cyprus discovered gas off-shore, Turkey immediately responded by saying that there had been an infringement of its (Turkey’s) continental shelf which extends to 200 nautical miles (nm) according to the Law of the Sea (LoS). It also demanded that North Cyprus should share in the gas finds. However, more recent conventions on the LoS state that coastal territorial boundaries are now limited to 12 nm, so nullifying the territorial argument. However, Turkey never ratified its signature on the Conventions of the Law of the Sea and cannot be obliged to cooperate on this matter.

Following the hydrocarbon discoveries and the sinking of test wells off South Cyprus’ shores, Turkey made an attempt to discover gas onshore North Cyprus, this was unsuccessful and only brought about complaints from locals about pollution from the test wells and of course, from South Cyprus which still considers the North to be part of its territories. This claim is recognised by the EU and the rest of the world with the exception of Turkey. So, in reality the act was bluster and little more than muscle flexing on Turkey’s part.

According to Nejat Tarakci, writer of books on the eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus, Turkey would be well-advised to change its tack and show diplomacy and good neighbourliness in the region. The potential benefits of hydrocarbon finds for Turkey are obvious, either by transporting it via pipeline to Europe or buying the gas for its own domestic consumption, thereby breaking Russia’s grip on its fuel supplies. Despite Turkey’s protests, gas exploration in the South’s EEZ continues and is veering towards Europe – it seems that no one is listening.

 

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