Wednesday

7th Dec 2022

Turkmenistan: We're not sure why Barroso is coming

  • Turkmenistan: Barroso will be greeted by a full honour guard at Berdymukhammedov's palace (Photo: d_proffer)

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will on Saturday (15 January) hold a one-hour-long tete-a-tete with one of central Asia's most controversial leaders. But with Brussels not aiming to make any concrete offers on gas purchasing, the Turkmen side is unsure what the meeting will achieve.

The Barroso delegation will land in Ashgabat late on Friday before going to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's palace the next day to be greeted with a full guard of honour normally reserved for heads of state.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The commission plans to hand over a draft legal study on how Turkmenistan could link-up its gas fields with Azerbaijan and to seek verbal assurances that Ashgabat will one day ship gas directly to the EU, bypassing Russia.

A Turkmen diplomatic source told this website that Mr Berdymukhammedov is unsure why the commission is sending over its big gun at a time when the EU has "no new offer" and "no new ideas" on how to get Turkmenistan to join its flagship Nabucco pipeline project, however.

"After the signing of Tapi [a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas project], the Europeans are a bit nervous about possible reserves and whether the gas will flow ... It's just a political meeting: Barroso wants to put his weight on the scale to convince Turkmenistan to go with the Trans-Caspian pipeline," the contact said, referring to a Nabucco component pipeline seen as key to getting the Nabucco project off the ground.

Turkmenistan believes that the Trans-Caspian pipeline is an "unrealistic" option, not least because of opposition from Russia, which would have to give its approval as one of the Caspian Sea littoral states, the Turkmen diplomat added. "It will be politically difficult to give this message immediately after the European visit. So some time will probably pass before such a statement [against the Trans-Caspian] is made," the source said.

The Nabucco pipeline lies at the heart of the EU's plans to create a so-called Southern Corridor to bring in gas directly from Caspian Sea countries to the EU, breaking Russia's monopoly on exports from the region. But Russia is currently promoting a rival so-called South Stream pipeline designed to ship more Caspian gas to the EU under the Black Sea.

Meanwhile, NGOs such as the UK-based Global Witness warn that the EU should not pin its energy security hopes onto administrations as unreliable and morally repugnant as the current one in Ashgabat.

Recently leaked US diplomatic cables paint a colourful picture of the man Mr Barroso will shake hands with on Saturday. One cable, dated 2009, described Mr Berdymukhammedov as "vain, suspicious, guarded, strict, very conservative, a practiced liar, 'a good actor' and vindictive ... not a very bright guy."

Another cable from 2007 said he had raised the level of bribes required from Western companies to do business in the country by 15 percent compared to his predecessor.

A European Commission source noted that President Barroso will bring up the issue of human rights and democratic reforms at the meeting: "There has been a timid and modest start to reforms, it's moving, albeit at a slow pace, and the President will encourage his Turkmen counterpart to take this further."

The Barroso delegation, which includes energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger, will spend two days in Baku before the Ashgabat visit.

The EU team intends to sign a joint declaration on energy co-operation with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and expects the Azeri side to ask about progress on EU visa facilitation during the trip. "We want to lock them in, particularly the Azerbaijanis, on the strategic option of the Southern Corridor. The declaration says exactly this, if we can get the text through," the commission contact noted.

In a related development that may indicate the US is losing faith in the Nabucco project, the US ambassador to Rome told La Stampa, the Italian daily, on Monday that Nabucco and South Stream could somehow be merged in the future. A commission spokeswoman later said Brussels is "not considering" the option.

Competition from South Stream is set to heat up in 2011 after the South Stream consortium opens its new office in the Swiss canton of Zug, a location favoured by offshoots of Russia's Gazprom, the South Stream majority-shareholder.

"Preparations are underway, and we are looking forward to opening our office in the near future," the South Stream consortium's chief and the former CEO of Dutch energy firm Gasunie, Marcel Kramer, told this website. "As is common practice with infrastructure projects, South Stream will co-operate with a significant number of external specialists and consultants in different areas. This will likely include support in areas such as engineering, environmental assessment, legal advice and communications."

The Brussels-based PR firm Brunswick, which already lobbies for Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream in the EU capital, is in a good position to clinch a South Stream PR contract. "I would not be against that," Brunswick partner Philippe Blanchard said.

Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?

Over the last 10 years, Portugal has given 1,470 golden visas to people originating from countries whose tax-transparency practices the EU finds problematic. But unlike common practice in other EU states with similar programmes, Portugal has not implemented "due diligence".

Column

Autocrats make us all less secure

How should democratic states co-operate with authoritarian governments in the future? My organisation, Democracy Reporting International, has studied the security strategies of 13 democratic governments to understand how they see this relationship.

Opinion

Serbia now has no choice but to join EU sanctions on Russia

Vladimir Putin himself is somewhat suspicious of Serbia's leader, as are most who deal with the opaque Aleksandar Vucic. The Russian president has preferred to keep his Serbian counterpart compliant, via a tight rein of annually-reviewed gas pricing.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLarge Nordic youth delegation at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  4. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  5. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  6. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe

Latest News

  1. EU delays Hungary funds decision, as Budapest vetoes Ukraine aid
  2. Borrell gets pension from MEP fund set for taxpayer bailout
  3. Autocrats make us all less secure
  4. Big Agri's lies: green EU farming not to blame for food insecurity
  5. German top court declares €800bn EU recovery fund 'legal'
  6. EU countries struggle to crack Hungary's vetos
  7. Frontex expanding migrant route-busting mission in Balkans
  8. EU ministers in fresh battle on joint debt, after Biden subsidies

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  2. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  3. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  5. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us