Turkey’s PM seeks leap forward in EU bid in 2009

January 19, 2009, Monday/ 13:27:00
Joining the European Union is a top priority for Turkey, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan said on a rare visit to Brussels aimed at boosting accession talks this year.

But in a demonstration of the difficulties facing the troubled talks, Erdoğan threatened to review Turkey's support for the Nabucco gas pipeline project, which the EU views as vital to its energy diversification hopes.

"Accession to the EU is a top priority for Turkey," Erdoğan said in his first visit to the EU capital in four years. "I hope there will be a leap in 2009," he told a conference.

Ankara faces EU pressure to speed up reforms the bloc says have been put on the back burner.

Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005 but has made slow progress in a climate of political distractions at home and a lack of appetite for further enlargement among EU states.

The EU wants Ankara to reform its constitution, improve free speech, grant more rights to minorities and curb the power of the army.

Erdoğan said Turkey was working on many of the reforms asked for by the EU, including laws governing trade unions.

"We don't ask for privileges, what we ask for is equal and fair treatment," he said, complaining that areas of talks, or chapters, had been blocked for political reasons.

NABUCCO PIPELINE

Turkey has opened talks on 10 out of the 35 chapters and has provisionally completed negotiations on just one. The EU has frozen eight chapters because Ankara refuses to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriots.

Cyprus said last month it would not let talks on the energy part of the accession process start until an oil exploration dispute was resolved. Cyprus has accused Turkey of harassing hydrocarbon research vessels four times since Nov. 13.

Erdoğan threatened on Monday to review Turkey's support for the Nabucco gas pipeline to Europe if the energy portion of its EU accession talks remained blocked.

Erdoğan also raised doubts about the $12 billion project, seen as one of Europe's best hopes for limiting its dependence on Russian gas.

The EU has sought to diversify its energy sources since Russia's invasion of Georgia last summer and the current gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which has curtailed supplies across Ukraine to Europe.

The EU is backing the Nabucco pipeline, which is one day hoped to carry 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Caspian or Middle Eastern gas annually to an Austrian hub via Turkey.

"If we are faced with a situation where the energy chapter is blocked, we would of course review our position," Erdoğan said.

Erdoğan questioned whether there was enough gas available to justify Nabucco, which enters Europe via Turkey.

"The information is that the countries that say that they will provide sufficient amounts of natural gas do not have enough natural gas to provide", he said.

"In the Nabucco project there needs to 30 billion cubic metres of natural gas flowing, but it's not there," he added.

Analysts say only 3 bcm has been sourced for the pipeline, compared to a bare minimum of 15 bcm needed to get it started.

Iran remains a potential source of gas for Nabucco, and Erdoğan criticised countries that oppose taking Iranian gas for political reasons.

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