The Southern Gas Corridor and the South Caucasus
The Southern Caucasus is a key region for the transport of fossil fuels from the Caspian region to Europe. Until now, the Nabucco project has been the main plan for the future energy supply of EU member states. However, the EU lacks an extensive concept for the region. European engagement can only be successful by closely linking development aid with energy and security policy.
The energy policy of the EU and the Southern Gas Corridor
Over the decades to come, the European Union (EU) will most probably need to import an increased amount of natural gas.
The EU only receives a small part of its natural gas imports from remote areas as liquefied natural gas (LNG) by tanker. Due to lower cost and greater capacity, the largest part is imported into the EU, above all, by pipeline from the neighborhood through three large import corridors at the moment: from Russia (Eastern Gas Corridor), Norway (Northern Gas Corridor) and North Africa (Western Gas Corridor).
Whereas individual pipeline projects of the Southern Gas Corridor were already developed by the respective companies at the beginning of the 2000s, the Southern Gas Corridor, as an overarching concept, only emerged later. It was first described as a “project of European interest”, connecting the countries of the Caspian Sea and the Middle East by long-distant natural gas pipelines with the European Union, in a decision of the European Parliament and the Council of September 2006, coded as “NG3”.
The projects of the Southern Gas Corridor
From the point of view of the European Commission, the Southern Gas Corridor comprises all those projects that originate in the Caspian region or the Middle East, regardless of the fact whether the gas transit is conducted to a great extent on Turkish territory (Nabucco, Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI)) or via the Black Sea (Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI), White Stream).
Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)
Interconnector Turkey-Greece-Italy (ITGI) + Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB)
Start of project
EGL (CH ) 42.5%, Statoil (NO) 42.5%, E.ON Ruhrgas (DE) 15%
DEPA (GR), DESFA (GR), Edison (IT), BEH (BG), Botas (TR)
• Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey (BTE (built already))
• Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey (BTE (built already))
• Greece – Bulgaria (IGB): 170 km / 3-5 bcma / 140 million EUR
Start of delivery
2016 (first stage)
Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania Interconnector (AGRI)
Start of project
SOCAR (AZ), GOGC (GE), ROMGAZ (RO), MVM (HU) at 25% each
GUEU-White Stream Pipeline Company (composition unknown; Seat: London)
Azerbaijan – Georgia – Romania – Hungary; Transport Georgia – Romania to be conducted with LNG tankers
• Option 1: Azerbaijan – Georgia – Romania
onshore: 650 km; offshore to Romania: 1,100km; offshore to Ukraine: 630 km
Natig Aliyev: 2-5 billion EUR, earlier estimates : 4-6 billion EUR
2-4 billion EUR (first stage)
Start of delivery
2016 (first stage)
Start of project
OMV (AT), MOL (HU), Transgaz (RO), BEH (BG), Botas (TR) and RWE (DE) at 16.67% each
• offshore: Gazprom (RU) 50%, Eni (IT) 25%, Wintershall (DE) 15%, EDF (FR) 10%
Turkey – Bulgaria – Romania – Hungary – Austria
• Option 1: Russia – Bulgaria – Serbia – Hungary – Austria
offshore: 923 km; onshore: 1,600-2,540 km depending on the route
offshore: 63 bcma; 20-22 bcma at the endpoint depending on the route
7.9 billion EUR; Günther Oettinger: 12-15 billion EUR
15.5 billion EUR; earlier estimates: 19-24 billion EUR
Start of delivery
The EU officially supports all projects that are part of the Southern Gas Corridor and help to diversify the gas supply of the EU. Financial contributions of the EU (e.g. for feasibility studies) have gone to Nabucco, ITGI/IGB, TAP and White Stream. All in all, the EU has made available more than 20 million EUR for the various projects through its program for Trans-European Energy Networks (TEN-E); and another 200 and 145 million EUR respectively are set aside for Nabucco and ITGI/IGB by the European Energy Program for Recovery (EEPR).
There is no agreement among the EU member states on priority or joint projects in the area of energy policy. There is no common foreign energy policy as energy policy is still determined very much by the national states themselves. As a tendency, the states will promote those projects in which companies from their own country are involved. However, there are often several companies of one country partnering in different projects. Thus, the support of Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria is very large for the Nabucco pipeline; however, this support has waned since these states have also signed agreements with the competing South Stream project, which is to be routed across their territories, too. The German position on Nabucco has evolved in the direction of support. For instance, the German federal government did not want to grant Nabucco any financial support initially at the negotiations for the European Energy Program for Recovery at the beginning of 2009, but advocates the project in the meantime. This is also a consequence of the intensive lobbying and information work conducted by RWE, who is involved in Nabucco. Yet, the German federal government cannot lend exclusive support to Nabucco, as other German companies are partners of TAP and South Stream. Italian companies are part of South Stream and ITGI, Hungarian enterprises of Nabucco, South Stream and AGRI, Greek companies of ITGI and South Stream, etc. This situation is hampering the implementation of large infrastructural projects, such as Nabucco, since long-term investments and agreements in the energy sector in politically and economically unstable regions, such as the Caspian and the Middle East, require special support and security rendered by the political decision-makers. In order to avoid similar problems of implementation, as they are to be observed with Nabucco, the EU member states should develop together energy infrastructure projects that are sensible for securing and diversifying the energy supply.
Feasibility of the projects and significance of the South Caucasian countries
Nearly everyone involved on the side of the companies and the governments have started to stress that the individual projects would supplement one another. This is usually justified with the fact that the EU will need to import so much more natural gas in the future that there is room for all the pipeline projects; whereby the assumptions concerning the future import demands are sometimes much higher than established by the European Commission. However, the individual projects are not competing so much for the European markets than in their quest for sources of gas.
In view of the immense natural gas reserves in the Caspian region and the Middle East quoted earlier, this might come as a surprise. However, large parts of the reserves will not be available to the Southern Gas Corridor for the foreseeable future. Without lifting the sanctions against Iran in the dispute about the Iranian nuclear program, no natural gas will be delivered by Iran. Thus, the Nabucco operators who counted on gas deliveries from Iran earlier announced in August 2010 that they would not build an access line to Iran at the moment due to the current political situation. Qatar exports a large part of its natural gas by means of LNG tankers to East Asia and in part to the EU. In order to transport natural gas from Qatar by pipeline via the Southern Gas Corridor, however, the Iranian pipeline network would need to be used or a new pipeline be built through Iraq, which at the moment seems unrealistic both for political as well as security reasons.
Gas deliveries from Turkmenistan, Northern Iraq and Azerbaijan seem more likely at the present point in time. OMV from Austria, MOL from Hungary and RWE from Germany, companies who are partners in Nabucco, are involved in exploration projects in Northern Iraq and Turkmenistan. However, there are obstacles that should not be underestimated here, too, before Turkmen or Northern Iraqi natural gas is available to Nabucco. In Iraq, the distribution of profits first needs to be settled between the Kurdish North and the central government in Bagdad. Furthermore, differences on the sovereignty rights of Northern Iraq between Northern Iraq and the central government, on the one hand, and Northern Iraq and Turkey, on the other hand, are inhibiting gas exports. In the case of Turkmen natural gas, it has not been settled yet how it is to be transported to the West. Pipelines across Russian or Iranian territory are politically undesired, the construction of a pipeline along the bottom of the Caspian Sea cannot be conducted for as long as the countries bordering on the Caspian Sea have not agreed on the legal status of the sea. Moreover, the transportation of large amounts of natural gas by ship across the Caspian Sea seems to be economically unattractive at the moment.
What remains are gas deliveries from Azerbaijan as the most obvious option. Within the target area of the Southern Gas Corridor, Azerbaijan has relatively small gas reserves of 1.3 tcm or 0.7% of the worldwide natural gas reserves.
Thus, Azerbaijan plays a key role in the Southern Gas Corridor, as the decisive first gas deliveries will come from that country. Furthermore, Azerbaijan is important as a future transit country for gas deliveries from Turkmenistan. Georgia, on the other hand, is also relevant as a transit country on route to the West, be it to Turkey or via the Black Sea. Only Armenia does not play a direct role in the Southern Gas Corridor.
From an economic and energy policy point of view, the states of the South Caucasus are closely interconnected. Georgia is the most important transit country to Europe for Azerbaijan. At the same time, Georgia represents the main supply route for Russian natural gas to Armenia. Azerbaijan has been supplying Georgia with natural gas since 2006 and that at a lower price than Gazprom did initially. It is the aim of Azerbaijan to reduce its transit dependency for oil and natural gas on Russia. One important step towards an improvement of its negotiating position with Russia was the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline (BTC), supported already by the USA, and the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum gas pipeline (BTE). A further involvement of Azerbaijan in the Southern Gas Corridor would improve its negotiating position even more. Finally, the economic prospects opened up by the development of the Southern Gas Corridor should not be underestimated either. Azerbaijan generates more than 60% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) with the export of oil and natural gas. In addition, the transit of raw materials from the Caspian Sea to Turkey also plays an important role for the Georgian budget.
The EU in South Caucasus
The South Caucasus is part of various political initiatives of the EU. Apart from the Southern Energy Corridor, this is the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), the Eastern Partnership and the Black Sea Synergy. The region itself is characterized by ethnic conflicts. Due to its geo-political location, external players have a great interest in influencing the development in this region. Apart from Russia, the USA and the EU, these are regional powers, such as Turkey and Iran.
The EU started only very late to integrate the South Caucasus into its neighborhood policy. The region was awarded a mere footnote in the first concept of the ENP, but this changed with the Rose Revolution of Georgia: in spring 2004, the three South Caucasian countries became an official part of the ENP. Before the Russian-Georgian war of August 2008, all EU activities were conducted through the Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA), the action plans within the ENP as well as the EU special representative for the South Caucasus. The EU strategy for the region was to develop relations with all three states at the same time, for which PCAs were concluded with all three of them in 1999. These were supplemented in a next step with action plans of the ENP, which were to support reforms of democracy and the market economy in the countries and intensify cooperation with the EU. All action plans concentrated on the economic reconstruction following the ethnic conflicts in Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh as well as on trust building. In this context, Georgia was to become a stable and prosperous democracy, which could integrate the two separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by its attractiveness.
Energy plays a key role in the relations of the EU with Azerbaijan and, in part, Georgia. For instance, Brussels and Baku signed a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership in the energy sector in 2006. In the progress report of the Commission of 2009, the good cooperation with Azerbaijan is stressed as well as the significance of this country for the energy supply of the EU. This positive assessment of the development of relations makes clear the great interest of the EU in Azerbaijan as a supply and transit country for the Southern Gas Corridor. The ENP action plan for Georgia attached greater attention to the protection of the transport infrastructure with a view to the BTC and BTE pipelines.
However, a successful EU South Caucasus policy should not focus solely on the role of the region for the delivery and the transit of oil and natural gas but should embrace a broader approach also dealing with the development of democracy, good governance and conflict management. The Russian-Georgian war has shown how vulnerable the pipelines are, and the long-winded negotiations with Azerbaijan and its participation in the Southern Gas Corridor, especially Nabucco, make clear the limited scope of action the EU has in this region. The relatively stable and autocratically led Azerbaijan has a weak and fragmented opposition. Clan structures and symbiotic relations between business and politics lead to corruption (Position 134 on the Corruption Index of Transparency International)
Even though the EU has made democratization and good governance a main point of its Eastern Partnership and in its documents on the South Caucasus
Options for EU action
With regard to its energy policy in the South Caucasus, there is the central challenge for the EU to develop a common domestic and foreign energy policy. The Southern Gas Corridor exists on paper but in reality, the interests of the member states and their energy companies determine European policies also against EU principles, such as diversification, transparency and solidarity. There is the principal question of whether the energy policy should be left to the laws of the market, following the belief that if it is economically sensible then European companies will build the respective pipelines. Or, alternatively, whether there should be a stronger debate among the EU member states of what a (financially affordable) strategic energy supply of the Union should look like in the future. Natural gas is to play an important role in the energy mix of the member states in the short- or medium-term, and the South Caucasus is the key to the large reserves of the Caspian region and the Middle East. At the moment, Russia and China are more ready to and successful in taking decisions in the competition for the Caspian resources. The EU, on the other hand, will play no role in the region without a strategic decision in favor of, for instance, the Nabucco pipeline and without a relevant access to the region.
Energy policy towards the South Caucasus, however, is not only economic policy but represents also a strategic decision to bind the region closer to Europe and to exert a more comprehensive influence on conflict resolution and a democratic development of the region. This issue is decisive as to whether the EU may become a relevant player in this neighborhood or not, and whether it wants to combine its economic attractiveness with the export of its political and economic model. The EU member states also have to answer the question whether they are ready to collaborate more actively in the resolution of the region’s conflicts besides the development of a common foreign energy policy. The reactive approach becoming active only in crisis situations, as for instance the Georgian-Russian war of 2008, is preventing a sustained development and conflict resolution in the neighborhood and leads to frustration among the states of the region. This is true for the South Caucasus as well as for North Africa.
Therefore, the EU should support strategic projects within the framework of the Southern Gas Corridor more strongly politically and financially and prepare a medium-term strategy on the development of a Trans-Caspian transport system (by either pipeline or tanker). The unequal treatment of economically more attractive countries (Azerbaijan) and less attractive countries (Armenia) will lead to short-term gains economically. In the long-term, however, the focus should be on establishing transparency, the rule of law and open markets in all partner countries, as only these conditions will enable sustained investments and stability. That is why a greater commitment in the area of energy development should at the same time comprise more investments into the civil society and the rule of law, and – in the South Caucasus in particular – in conflict resolution, too. All of these areas are closely interlinked: safe transit routes for energy raw materials require a long-term solution to the conflicts in the region. Only through a vibrant civil society and free media can the states change the discourse on the conflicts; therefore, they represent a major step towards their resolution. If the EU continues to limit its activities in the region to the containment of hot conflicts and the selective development of energy relations, it will not achieve a successful policy in any of the areas.
in: South Caucasus – 20 Years of Independence, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 1 November 2011, pp. 335-353