Issues of energy security and policy have a permanent presence in the Balkan countries, the main topic on the agenda currently being the question of how Europe can become more independent of gas supplies from Russia. Attempts to find alternative sources involve billions of euro of investment, dozens of countries and geopolitical interests, which cannot easily be ignored in many cases. Greece’s special insistence on starting active imports of gas from the Caspian Sea demonstrated at the forum on natural gas distribution held in Athens this week is particularly impressive. Although the Greek forum did not involve speakers of the Russian company Gazprom, they were silent observers of the discussions. GRReporter sought the expert opinion of Antonis Livanios, Executive Director of the Energy Stream CMG GmbH, Greece & Germany, to interpret the signals coming from different countries and drawing the energy map of Europe. Livanios, who, on the Greek side, was the head of negotiators for the construction of a gas pipeline between Bulgaria and its Mediterranean neighbour, agreed to share his views on the recent developments.
Don’t you think that Greece’s strongly expressed will to begin importing gas from the Caspian Sea as quickly as possible could harm its relations with Russia?
The European Union is still importing natural gas from Russia, which is the largest trading partner of European community countries for the delivery of natural gas. The aim of the European Union is to diversify the natural gas’ sources and routes. We all know the problems with Ukraine. In 2009, Europe was the victim of Russian-Ukrainian relations. This means that the European Union should accelerate the processes that will bring a significant amount of Azeri gas and it should later turn to other sources from the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, etc. That does not mean that Europe will stop importing gas from Russia. The capacity of the Nord Stream project, which connects Russia and Germany, is 55 billion cubic metres. Not only a new route but also a new source of gas outside Ukraine has been found with the Stockman field.
The policy of the European Union, its member states and the biggest consumers of natural gas as Germany remains the expansion of sources and routes of natural gas. Therefore, attempts to bring gas from Azerbaijan cannot be suspended. The official European policy on energy issues is applicable to Greece too. During Costas Karamanlis’ government, the country followed a very active energy policy, which had two main aspects - imports of Russian gas from South Stream and imports of Azeri gas, which can pass through two alternative pipelines - ITGI Poseidon or the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). These are big international projects and I do not think that Greece’s will to be a part of them can be an obstacle to Russian-Greek relations. For Russia, Greece is a small part of the larger European market.
What do you think should be the priorities of the new Greek government in order to speed up the processes of attracting energy projects and investments in Greece?
It is important that the government adhere to the policy for projects of international importance the state was pursing in the last 10 years. Currently, the government is composed of three major parties - New Democracy, PASOK and the Democratic Left.
As far as natural gas is concerned, PASOK and New Democracy had a uniform energy policy aiming at the development of two major projects. The first one was the import of Russian natural gas through the South Stream pipeline and the second one was the import of Azeri natural gas from the Shah Deniz field. In the beginning, two different pipelines were suggested to carry the natural gas from Shah Deniz to Europe through Greece - ITGI (Interconnection Turkey-Greece-Italy) and the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). In the last six months, the Shah Deniz consortium decided to choose the Trans Adriatic Pipeline. A few days ago, the Nabucco Pipeline was preferred for the same project, which if approved, will skip Greece and pass through Bulgaria to carry the gas to central Europe. Now, we have come to the finishing line when one of the pipelines should be preferred in order to start implementing the project.
In other words, the Greek government should continue doing what its predecessors were doing in the last 10 years and sustain a uniform line - the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
What are the basic steps Greece should take in order for the TAP project to get ahead of Nabucco?
Greece should immediately sign an intergovernmental cooperation agreement with Italy and Albania for the construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) but there are other priorities too.
What are they?