Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will focus on energy, transport infrastructure and migration, as he today (1 August) seeks to strengthen ties with Bulgaria and stabilise south eastern Europe after the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
Tsipras is visiting Sofia for the Greek-Bulgarian High-Level Cooperation Council, his first such visit since he took power. He and his ministers are meeting Bulgarian counterpart, Boyko Borissov, and the country’s President Rosen Plevneliev.
Greek media quoted government sources as saying that that Athens wants to “upgrade” relations with Sofia, after the regional turmoil caused by the 15 July coup.
“Bulgaria is our closest partner in the Balkan,” Tsipras wrote on Twitter before his departure.
News portal Euro2Day, EurActiv Greece’s media partner, quoted Greek government sources as saying that “Turkey’s destabilisation will act as a catalyst” in the developments in the region and Greece’s geostrategic role has acquired new “historic” dimensions.
In an interview with Financial Times, US Treasury secretary Jack Lew said that Greece’s debt issue should be solved so the country can help stabilise the region.
“I would hope [the recent regional upheaval] would change the climate in which discussions of debt relief happen, just because it’s the right thing to do on its own, and at a time when Greece is in a position [of] geopolitical significance that’s a good time to reinforce their fiscal future,” Lew said.
“You have to fix the foundation to have a strong Greece,” he added.
Greek reports quoted government sources as saying that the visit to Bulgaria marks the launch of a series of contacts focusing on the Balkans, Arab countries, and the Persian Gulf.
Euro2Day reported that Tsipras would also discuss migration with Borissov.
The Greek prime minister will push for the creation of an “anti-Visegrad alliance”. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia kept their distance from the Visegrad countries’ hardline stance in tackling the refugee crisis in March.
Greece is one of the countries that has borne the brunt of the crisis.
Athens blamed Hungary for not contributing to the country’s efforts to tackle the refugee crisis and for its “political decision” to help Macedonia build a fence at the Greek border.
According to Athens agency, Bulgaria is now one of Greece’s closest and most reliable partners in the Balkans, and an “important partner for the energy planning of the United States and the European Union”.
The two leaders will focus on the TransAdriatic Pipeline (TAP) which will transport Caspian natural gas to Europe. Connecting with the Trans Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) at the Greek-Turkish border, TAP will cross Northern Greece, Albania, and the Adriatic Sea before coming ashore in Southern Italy to connect to the Italian natural gas network.
Turkey and Azerbaijan will formally begin construction today (17 March) of a new gas pipeline, which will pump gas from the vast Azerbaijani Shah Deniz 2 field to Turkish and EU consumers.
The construction of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline will also take centre stage as well as a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the port city of Alexandroupoli.
Sofia and Athens yesterday (10 December) signed a final investment agreement to build a natural gas pipeline to help Bulgaria reduce its almost complete reliance on Russian gas supplies.
Greek media also reported that Tsipras and Borisov will discuss cross-border cooperation in transport, including a rail link to connect the Black Sea with the Aegean in Alexandroupolis, bypassing the Turkish straits and opening up prospects for trade with Russia.
Sofia news agency also said that the ongoing process of relocation of Greek companies to Bulgaria will also be on the table.
Faced with a deep economic crisis at home, at least 11,000 Greek companies have found a safe haven in neighbouring low-wage Bulgaria – the poorest member of the European Union.
- Athens news agency: PM in Sofia on Monday for Greek-Bulgarian High-Level Cooperation Council
- Sofia news agency: Tsipras to Meet Bulgaria's Borisov in Sofia
- Euro2Day: Στη Βουλγαρία για ενέργεια-υποδομές ο Αλ. Τσίπρας [in Greek]
- Skai.gr: Επίσημη επίσκεψη του Αλέξη Τσίπρα στη Σόφια
- Financial Times: Turkish turmoil strengthens case for Greek debt relief, says US