Greece, holding the rotating presidency of the EU until June, said it would promote the enhancement of energy security in the 28-country bloc and fully support the European Commission’s approach to Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Speaking to the press in Athens last week, the Greek minister for energy, Yiannis Maniatis, said the first pillar for European energy security was the support of initiatives to diversify gas supply, including gas from the Caspian Sea and the gradual implementation of the Southern Corridor.
According to the minister, “interconnectors” for big pipelines were key contributor to Europe's energy security.
The Trans Adriatic Pipeline AG (TAP) and the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (ICGB) recently signed an agreement laying the foundations for linking the two projects and thus bringing gas from Azerbaijan to Bulgaria, a country which depends on Russia for almost 100% of its gas imports.
The two sides will work together on realising a possible interconnection point in the vicinity of Komotini, Greece. “These interconnectors are choices that objectively enforce the energy security of Europe,” Maniatis said.
The second pillar for European energy security, Maniatis said, was the recent developments in oil exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
“I would like to highlight that the perfect cooperation between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, shapes new policies of energy supply in Europe and sends a quite hopeful message,” he noted.
The "Projects of Common Interest” (PCI) constitutes the third pillar and will be implemented with the participation of Greece, the minister said.
“This issue is a priority and is being shaped through Greece’s ambition to become an energy hub of the greater region … we hope that the Informal Meeting of Energy Ministers will note that a new source of energy supply for Europe is being shaped,” Maniatis added.
Doubts about the future of South Stream
The European Commission said last month (4 December) that the bilateral agreements for the construction of the Gazprom-favoured South Stream gas pipeline – concluded between Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Austria – are all in breach of EU law and need to be renegotiated from scratch.
“We agree with the strategic plans of the European Commission, which we have supported for all these years, as it was the case with the Southern Corridor”, said the Greek deputy minister of environment, energy and climate change, Makis Papageorgiou.
But he conceded that there were conflicting signs from Gazprom’s side on the South Stream pipeline.
“As a plan, it has been around since 2007. The company has made many moves, and as you already know, Greece has signed an agreement with the Russian company. After that, Gazprom abolished the southern branch and made new agreements focusing on the northern branch.”
“It is still unclear what exactly will happen with South Stream,” he noted.
“The position of the European Commission on the issue is pretty clear: Gazprom has to make its plans clear, under what conditions it will operate in the EU,” he added.
Privatisations in energy sector
Even though debt-ridden Greece is on the recovery path, the country may need to accelerate privatisation, especially in the energy sector, namely the Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) and the public Natural Gas Supply Corporation of Greece (DEPA).
The privatisation of the Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) is in the process of final approval by Brussels.
“By the summer, this process will be finalised and Azeri company SOCAR will acquire 66% shares of the company while 34% will remain in the Greek state”, said Papageorgiou.
As for DEPA, the international bid was inconclusive since Gazprom pulled out, despite its initial interest.
According to the Greek deputy minister, Gazprom finally backed off as a result of EU conditions.
“Evidently, the reason for this, as stated by Russian PM Alexander Medvedev, is that the EU conditions at some point should change. As long as the conditions of the EU don’t change and Greece is a member of the EU and abides by its rules in the energy market, no more moves can be made”, the deputy minister noted.
He added that the privatisation of DEPA will happen later, as currently Greece holds discussions with the Commission about gas market reform.
Crisis-hit Greece took over the reins of the EU Council of Ministers on Wednesday (1 January) with a record low budget of €50 million set aside as the “absolute maximum” to run the presidency during the next six months.
While analysts have predicted Greece will require more aid, albeit on a smaller scale than previous bailouts totalling about €240 billion, the troubled country has vowed to spend considerably less than other countries' presidencies.
Greece takes the helm of the EU at a critical time, just months before the end of the current European Parliament. This means that Greece will have less than four months to deliver on complicated dossiers, rather than the full six months.
The main presidency priorities are the European Banking Union, growth and jobs, migration and a European maritime policy.
- 1 Jan.-30 June 2014: Greek Presidency of the EU Council of Ministers