The Greek government said Sunday (22 December) it will sign an agreement for a huge pipeline project with Cyprus and Israel next month that is designed to ship gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.
The move comes amid tensions with Turkey over its own activities in the area and a contentious maritime deal with Libya expanding Ankara’s claims over a large gas-rich area of the sea.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s office said the agreement for the EastMed pipeline would be signed in Athens on 2 January with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.
The 2,000-kilometre (1,200-mile) pipeline will be able to transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic metres a year from offshore gas reserves between Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries.
The discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has sparked a scramble for the energy riches and a dispute between Cyprus and Turkey, which occupies the north of the Mediterranean island.
Turkey already faces European Union sanctions over ships searching for oil and gas off Cyprus, whose government in Nicosia is not recognised by Ankara.
The EastMed project is expected to make Cyprus, Greece and Israel key links in Europe’s energy supply chain and aims to stymie Turkey’s effort to extend its control to the eastern Mediterranean.
“It is really important that the countries showed they can react quickly against Turkey’s provocative stance,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said.
Greece responded angrily to the Turkey-Libya deal, expelling the Libyan ambassador and urging the UN to condemn it.
Part of the deal sets a maritime boundary between the two countries, which Greece says fails to take into account the island of Crete.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said earlier this month he envisaged joint energy exploration activities with Libya in the eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey already has ships searching for oil and gas off Cyprus, and says the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — recognised only by Ankara — has the right to explore around the entire island.
“Greece and countries supporting it were for a long time making preparations to ensure Turkey could not take any steps in the sea.
“As you know, they were making similar efforts with Mediterranean neighbour Arab countries and Israel. We don’t wish to provoke a quarrel, we don’t wish to infringe someone’s rights, legitimacy,” Erdoğan said on Sunday.
He stressed though that Turkey “no longer had the luxury” to be silent, or coy on the issue.
“The EastMed pipeline agreement will go forward despite what Erdoğan says,” Greek Energy and Environment Minister Kostis Hatzidakis had said earlier on Sunday.