For Europe, energy security is a pressing issue. According to the experts, in the short-run the Old Continent’s appetite for energy resources is likely to grow. At present, Europe’s reliance on primarily Russian gas is of particular importance in this context. This means that Brussels must shift towards renewable energy projects, show greater determination for their implementation and pay more attention to such promising projects like TAP. However, the course of developments demonstrate that some EU member states choose very different posture. Some shareholder Western companies also act irrational. This once again brings up the issue of TAP’s viability. Why is this happening? Is TAP encroaching on someone’s interests?
TAP Factor in Energy Security: Role and Position
For several years, the experts have been emphasizing the rising relevance of the energy security. This acute problem is among those that must be addressed urgently against the backdrop of complex geopolitical developments. Above all, Europe is searching for ways of ridding itself from energy dependence on one particular country. There are some successful endeavors. However, experience clearly demonstrates that there is another aspect embedded in foreign policy of Brussels. Namely, tolerance for double standards in the foreign policy. In the meantime, it must be acknowledged that there are countries within the organization that accommodate special interests of external forces. This claim may be arguable but here are concrete arguments.
TAP (Trans-Adriatic Pipeline) project is an initiative called for ensuring Europe’s energy security. Its strategic goal is delivery of natural gas to European countries through the Southern Gas Corridor energy route. In the geopolitical terms, TAP could be instrumental in reducing energy dependence from Russia and transit reliance on Ukraine. It envisages transportation of Caspian and Central Asian energy supplies in direction of Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey to Greece, Albania and further to Italy and then onwards to other EU member countries. TAP is due to join Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline (TANAP) at the Turkey-Greece border.
Azerbaijan is known to be one of the initiators of both projects. From the very outset, Baku has demonstrated sufficient determination and serious and constructive posture. Baku has agreed to bear major part of the financial burden of this project. In that period the official Baku has taken political, diplomatic and practical steps aimed at the implementation of this project. To that end, the President of Azerbaijan has conducted multiple negotiations, visited different countries and generally has been closely involved with the process.
Everybody knows about this. However, some problems stemming from Europe have emerged. Thus, the situation needs to be described in categorical terms. The point is that some EU member states are acting weird, to put it mildly. For example, some kind of anti-Tap hysteria is stirred in Italy, and all of this is happening vis-à-vis responsible steps taken by Azerbaijan. There are fascinating facts as to who pulls the strings here.
According to the media, Italy’s Apulia or Puglia region is place of constant protests against TAP. Local NGO’s are using environmental concerns as pretext for advocating against the pipeline (Five Star Movement and ComitadoNoTAP are the most active ones). They claim that the gas pipeline due to cross this province would be environmentally hazardous, entailing felling of olive gardens among other things. Region’s president Michele Emiliano shares that view. The government of Italy disagrees however, and is confident that project would have no negative impact.
One cannot help but wonder how Italy’s one region can oppose TAP? Media reports that the very province has close connections with some other countries (see: Татьяна Зыкова. Сыр не выпал. Итальянский бизнес остается в России / “Российская газета”, 17 December 2015). We are not in the position to verify the concrete mechanisms that link this matter with TAP but certain historical facts and parallels could support our assumptions. Let us recall some of the developments around the construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline in the past.
Warning: Risks Caused by Inadequate and Blurred Policy
Back then, local NGO’s in Georgia started a commotion about possible environmental problems arising in the country’s Borjomi province during the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. They used groundless claims about dangerous nature of the project; that it would contaminate water resources, provoke landslides etc. Then the President of Azerbaijan Heydar Aliyev demonstrated unwavering political will and resolved that issue. The true motive was nonetheless clear – certain quarters in Georgia used this ruse simply to gain more money from the project. On the other hand, we must not forget relentless actions by certain foreign powers against Azerbaijan well before that to thwart the realization of this project. Assassination attempts, killing of several individuals and coup d’état plans were the realities of those days. Once again, the national leader Heydar Aliyev shattered those repugnant plans thanks to political determination and wisdom characteristic to a great politician.
Italy is not the only country. Greek government is also taking some dubious steps when it comes to TAP. They wanted to amend almost every clause of the contract, including a wish to receive natural gas at lower prices (see: Новые риски проекта Транс-Адриатического трубопровода / “1news.az”, 22 December 2015). Furthermore, Statoil that was a member of the TAP consortium since 2008 opted to exit the project and sold its 20 percent stake (see: previous reference). Italy’s Snam was the buyer of Statoil’s shares. Can anyone guarantee that this company too would not cite environmental reasons or risk of overspending to pursue own agenda?
Examples mentioned above demonstrate repeating scenarios. Italian grapes now replace Borjomi water. The substance and protest mechanism remains the same – if TAP fails the very region of Italy and their foreign patrons would be happy. Yet that is not the true essence of the matter as there are more thought-provoking aspect to it.
It is about certain elements of the EU’s geopolitical games. Europe is now in the positon to purchase natural gas from Israel, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Central Asia. In this context, they allow themselves to be disloyal to a partner like Azerbaijan that made its energy resources available during the most challenging times. In other words, TAP is treated in such a fashion that would compel Azerbaijan to finance the entire project on its own. Otherwise, they signal that the project could be rejected. Indeed, the European market is very important for Azerbaijan but that does not imply that this country is ready to compromise on its sovereignty and self-interests. It is worthy to mention that EU’s behavior is catalyst to other subversions. There is no doubt that Georgia would never dare to take ambiguous actions regarding purchase of natural gas from Azerbaijan if were not for the EU’s attitude towards TAP. Apparently, Baku is up against the opportunists.
However, the situation can be remedied. Europe needs TAP more. Azerbaijan could content itself with TANAP or find other partners. Europeans should finally give up the habit of putting the blame on Muslim nations. Azerbaijan could calibrate its position on the issue of energy supply regardless of the complexity of the matter. Iran’s return to the market also expands the horizons. In the meantime, Azerbaijan is the transit country for energy supply routes originating in the Central Asia and China. Thus, Europe needs committed partners like Azerbaijan in the transportation field.
This evokes number of questions. It casts a doubt on Europe as a genuine partner. There is an impression that Europeans are driven by special interests and could potentially abandon the projects they once so vigorously supported, without taking into consideration how delicate the situation for the partner is. Such posture occasionally puts Europe itself in a predicament. It happens in other areas as well. Thus, they could decide to revisit some of the decisions made with respect to other partners that have for long pursued cooperation.