Greek prime minister reaffirms EastMed pipeline project is open for other countries to join

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Friday, January 10, 2020

On Tuesday, the Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis reasserted the openness of the EastMed project, which is aimed at connecting the Eastern Mediterranean gas fields with the European mainland via a pipeline through contested waters.

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (Image: European People's Party)

In his Tuesday live-streamed talk at the United States think tank Atlantic Council's Washington headquarters, Mitsotakis reaffirmed that the EastMed project, which currently involves Greece, Cyprus and Israel, is open for other countries to join. "We don't seek to exclude anyone from energy cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean provided they respect international law", he said, repeating his January 2 remarks made on the EastMed signing ceremony.

He also commented on the Turkish-Libyan maritime border agreement, calling it "null and void" and "geographically ridiculous". "The agreement assumes that our islands, including our biggest island Crete, does not have an exclusive economic zone, which goes against everything we know in international law", he added. He also noted that the Libyan House of Representatives rejected the demarcation, and that Greece and Turkey might end up before International Court of Justice in the Hague if talks would fail. Mitsotakis underlined they keep channels to Turkey open for dialog and that he would be "very-very happy if Turkey were to reconsider its overall approach".

Later on Tuesday Mitsotakis met with the International Monetary Fund, then with President Trump, where he denounced the border agreement again. In regard of clashing exclusive economic zone claims, he noted "it is important to point out that the agreement signed between Turkey and Libya infringe upon Greece’s sovereign rights".

On last Thursday, the delegations of Cyprus, Greece and Israel had met for their seventh trilateral summit, that time in Athens at the Zappeion Hall, to sign an agreement to construct the EastMed pipeline by 2025. The meeting was attended by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and energy minister Yuval Steinitz, Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and energy minister Konstantinos Hatzidakis, and Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and energy minister Georgios Lakkotrypis. The agreement was signed by the energy ministers. Greek daily Kathimerini said Greece and Cyprus had to speed up to counter possible Turkish interference with the project.

Earlier that day, the Greek gas producer Energean signed a letter of intent on selling two billion cubic meters of gas per year to the Greek gas supplier DEPA. The planned pipeline capacity is 10 billion cubic meters per year. Energean has committed 1.7 billion dollars in the Karish and Tanin fields.

An ENI drilling platform near Libya (Image: Cipiota)

With this forming of political and economic alliance with Hellenic countries, Netanyahu envisioned the pipeline to end their "fringe country" status. Netanyahu called on Italy and Egypt to join the project, adding "We call on any other country that wishes to join us to do so". In Cyprus, the ruling Democratic Rally in Cyprus hailed the pipeline as an advancement in the nation's sovereignty. Progressive Party of Working People, the main opposition force, underlined that the agreement is only a legal framework, and actual construction is in the hands of still undecided private investors. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy underlined Turkish and Turkish Cypriot mining rights in the region, and projected a failure if these would be overlooked.

Otranto, Italy is a proposed end point for the pipeline, and Italian economic development minister Stefano Patuanelli sent a letter of support prior to the signing, but the minister said they are to build another pipeline to Igoumenitsa, Greece. The United States expressed its support via the December 20th signing of the Eastern Mediterranean Bill, a July 25 quadrilateral meeting in Washington, and sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to join the trilateral meeting of EastMed countries on March 20 last year. The EU partially funded the feasibility studies, as it considers the EastMed pipeline to be a Project of Common Interest (PCI), ending the energy isolation of Crete and Cyprus, and diversifying the gas supply of Europe, when completed.

In December, a Turkish official said that the trans-Anatolian pipeline, which is already up and running, renders the EastMed building effort unnecessary, Cyprus Mail reported. On November 27, Turkey and Libya signed a maritime border agreement, according to which a section between Crete and Cyprus would cross the Turkish economic zone. Athens expelled the Libyan ambassador to Greece over this issue. Turkey maintains a position that only Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, has the right to the exclusive economic zone around the island. Because of its drilling operations there, Turkey is already under EU sanctions, and was condemned in a joint statement by Egypt, Greece and Cyprus on October 8.

In 2017, a memorandum of understanding about the pipeline was signed between Cyprus, Greece and Israel.

According to the Cyprus Mail, the 2000 km long pipeline is to connect the fields with Crete, the Greek mainland, and would end in Otranto, Italy. The May 2019 map of gas routes by Gas Infrastructure Europe draws the pipeline between the Aphrodite gas field and Thesprotia, Greece, where it merges with the Poseidon line en route to Italy.

Alex Lagakos, deputy director of the Greek Energy Forum, said the project has a geopolitical significance rather than an economic one. He called it unlikely that the EU would finance the project, as it has committed itself to green energy. The estimated cost is six billion euros, but the saturation of the gas markets and competition from liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals are likely to keep private investors away, he noted. Egypt has two usable terminals in the Nile-Delta, in Damietta and Idku. On September 19, 2018, Cyprus and Egypt had signed an alternative deal to export Aphrodite gas through these ports via a new pipeline.

Haifa University geostrategy expert and former Israeli security official, Avinoam Idan, said the new EastMed supply can't be considered a significant geopolitical change to Europe's energy market, as it would not affect the market share of Russian gas. In the analysis of the German Institute for Economic Research, the high costs and technical challenges render the project unrealistic.

During the trilateral meeting of Cyprus, Greece and Israel on January 28, 2016, the then-envisioned EuroAsia interconnector was considered as an alternative route to export the gas as electricity. The 1000 megawatt underwater cable connecting the three power grids is to be completed by December 2023. The estimated cost is 2.5 billion euros, and the EU considers it a PCI. EuroAfrica Interconnector, a similar project between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, is also in its planning stage.


Sources on the background

Further reading