There has been a serious uptick in activity concerning the energy sector in the broader region in the past few months and Greece has a potentially pivotal role to play in developments.
This week, the foreign ministers of Greece and Cyprus will meet in Athens and then travel to Israel for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu, in his capacity as foreign affairs chief. Apart from the broader framework of cooperation in other areas, energy will be high on the agenda.
US energy giant ExxonMobil is planning to start exploratory drilling in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone, and in the face of Turkey’s unpredictable behavior Nicosia is counting on the support of Israel, which it sees not just as a major player in the area and a member of the tripartite alliance with Greece, but also as a bridge with the United States, even more so thanks to the close personal relationship between the Israeli prime minister and the American president.
Apart from the drilling in Cyprus’s EEZ, another important piece of the East Mediterranean energy puzzle is how natural gas from Israel, Cyprus and possibly Egypt will be transported to European markets. Regarded as something of a chimera until recently, the construction of the underwater EastMed pipeline is now being explored as a serious option, even more so now that it has earned the support of the European Commission.
This project was at the focus of talks during a meeting at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) between the energy ministers of Greece, Israel, Serbia and Bulgaria and the US deputy secretary of energy. Cyprus and Romania will soon be added to this unofficial five-state cooperation scheme.
Beyond the possibility of natural gas being transported from the Eastern Mediterranean to Italy via Greece, another possibility is being explored as a possible alternative and that is getting the gas to Greece and then to Central Europe via the Balkan route.
The plans are very serious and the players significant. Things are moving in a certain direction. The American ambassador in Athens has made the promotion of the ports of Thessaloniki and Alexandroupoli in northern Greece a top priority.
All of these developments are thrusting Greece onto center stage. This is no longer just empty talk or wishful thinking. All the signs are pointing to a strong Greek entry on the energy map, with the blessings of key international players.
As Greece finds itself at a crossroads as far as the regional energy puzzle is concerned, the next steps demand that the responsible politicians are of high quality and are supported by technocrats with the necessary know-how, experience and skills.