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Romania lobbies for French inclusion in Nabucco

The recent exclusion of Gaz de France (GDF) from the $7.3 billion Nabucco pipeline project made the agenda yesterday in talks between visiting Turkish President Abdullah Gül and his Romanian counterpart, President Traian Basescu, with the latter urging Gül for inclusion of GDF in the project.

Turkey’s BOTAŞ and Romania’s Transgaz are partners in the Nabucco consortium, which confirmed in early February that Germany’s second-largest utility company RWE will join the project aimed at transporting gas from the Caspian to Europe, lessening dependence on Russian gas. Meanwhile, Gaz de France was excluded from Nabucco in favor of Germany’s RWE, becoming the latest victim to suffer from ongoing bitter political disputes between France and Turkey. The consortium is now equally owned by RWE and oil and gas companies in countries the pipeline passes through -- Austria’s OMV, Hungary’s MOL, Turkey’s BOTAŞ, Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz and Romania’s Transgaz. French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s will for having the GDF included in the Nabucco project was voiced by Basescu during his meeting with Gül at the presidential Cotroceni Palace. In response, Gül said the issue would be considered by Turkey, without giving a positive sign.

In early February, Sarkozy paid an official visit to Bucharest where he said France would make energy one of its top priorities when it takes over the European Union presidency in the second half of 2008. Basescu said after meeting with Sarkozy that Romania would support the involvement of GDF in EU-backed the Nabucco project. France has long been Romania’s closest ally in the West and has major business interests in the country, including car maker Renault. France is Romania’s third largest trade partner. Romania joined the European Union in 2007. “Being aware of the close relationship between Turkey and Romania, the French president is lobbying through the Romanian side. This kind of lobbying is often done for significant energy projects,” a Turkish official, who wished to remain anonymous, told Today’s Zaman. When he was asked at a joint press conference following his meeting with the Romanian president whether Basescu had been able to persuade him about GDF’s involvement in the Nabucco project, Gül briefly said: “Nabucco is very important for us. We hope that it is completed in the shortest time. We are very open-minded on this issue.”

Turkey has been angered by France’s objections to its bid to join the EU and by French moves to make denying Armenian genocide allegations a crime. Turkey rejects the label genocide and insists the mass killings of Anatolian Armenians at the start of the last century were the result of the chaos of war. Nabucco’s construction is scheduled for as early as this year, with operations starting in 2012. The cost of the project is estimated to be €5 billion. Meanwhile, ahead of the joint press conference by the two presidents, Romania and Turkey signed the “Agreement for Mutual Encouragement and Protection of Investments,” the “Maritime Agreement,” the “Agreement on Early Notification of Nuclear Accidents” and the “Cultural Exchange Program,” during the visit, which will last until tomorrow.

Turkey and Romania are each other’s biggest trade partners in the Balkans -- the trade volume between the two countries reached $6.7 billion by the end of 2007. The goal set for bilateral trade volume as of 2010 is $10 billion. Currently, there are more than 10,000 Turkish company registered in Romania. The 68 Turkish contractor companies in Romania have already taken on 103 projects, which are together worth $3.1 billion.

Ankara states, that there are many opportunities for cooperation between Turkey and Romania, especially due to Romania’s membership in both NATO and the European Union, it being one of the leading regional economies and being a founding member of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC). During Gül’s visit, Basescu reiterated his country’s support for Turkey’s full EU membership. While in Bucharest, Gül also met with Turkish people living in the country, calling on them to hold on to their moral values. “Turkish and Islamic cultures have always lived together in Balkans. If they are separated, then you’ll forget your identity,” Gül told an audience at the Intercontinental Hotel. He also urged the Turkish community in Romania to show loyalty to their country of citizenship. (Todays Zaman, Turkey)