EU welcomes EastMed deal but stresses need for further cost-benefit analysis

The European Commission has said the EastMed natural gas pipeline deal signed by Cyprus, Greece and Israel yesterday (2 January) is a “welcome development,” but insisted on exploring further cost-benefits of different options.

“The agreement is a welcome development. The pipeline should be seen as one option of tapping EastMed gas supplies for the EU alongside shipping it to the EU by tankers in the form of LNG. It’s important to explore further the costs and benefits of both main options,” an EU spokesperson told Greek One TV channel yesterday.

The EU official added that the Commission has so far not “signed up” to the pipeline, but only to a study exploring its feasibility further.

“Diversification of gas supplies is important for the EU’s energy security, and gas supplies from the Eastern Mediterranean contribute to this. In this context, the EastMed pipeline is one option to bring that gas to the continent,” the EU spokesperson said.

Cyprus, Greece and Israel signed in Athens on Thursday a “historic” agreement for the construction of the Eastern Mediterranean pipeline, which is considered a project of common interest of energy infrastructure in Europe.

It aims to transfer between 9 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.

Although Italy’s Minister for Economic Development Stefano Patuanelli sent a letter to his Greek counterpart Kostis Hatzidakis and expressed his support for the project, Rome was not represented at the signing.

La Stampa reported earlier this week that there are internal divisions over EastMed and TAP pipelines between the Democratic Party and its coalition partner Five Star Movement.

New US-backed geopolitical balance

The EastMed deal comes amid an escalating row over energy between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, following the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.

The signing of the EastMed pipeline deal has been accelerated following a memorandum of understanding (MoU) recently signed between Turkey and Libya to demarcate maritime zones in the region. The MoU triggered a strong reaction in the EU, because it ignores the Greek island of Crete.

Analysts suggest that the signing of the EastMed deal in practice cancels the Turkey-Libya MoU.

But Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the EastMed pipeline was not a threat to anyone.

“It is a pipeline for peace and cooperation between the peoples of the region,” the conservative leader said, adding that it’s been the result of a new geopolitical partnership between Greece, Cyprus and Israel, which has been systematically built in recent years.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited other countries, especially Italy and Egypt, to join the initiative emphasising that the project will help stabilise the wider region.

“There is a historical anomaly that our countries have experienced. In Athens and Jerusalem, we have laid the foundations of Western Culture. Greece and Israel, on the one hand and Cyprus in the middle, have created the values that have prevailed in humanity. But in modern times, there was a lack of connection between our countries. But we fixed that,” Netanyahu added.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades emphasised the support of the EU and Washington to the project.

Last month, the US adopted the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act (EastMed Act), which put Greece, Cyprus and Israel at the core of the new US strategy in the eastern Mediterranean region.

“Turkey’s illegal activities have contributed to the need to adopt an alternative strategy,” Bob Menendez told Athens News Agency.

Turkey says EastMed will fail

Ankara was annoyed by the EastMed deal and said it was meant to fail.

“Any project disregarding Turkey, who has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Turkish Cypriots, who have equal rights over the natural resources of the Island of Cyprus, cannot succeed. We bring this fact once more to the attention of the international community,” said Hami Aksoy, Spokesperson of Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Turkey is the most commercially feasible and secure route for the utilisation of natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and their transfer to the consumer markets in Europe, including Turkey,” he added.

“We remind the proprietors of the project that such sordid plans will continue to fail in the future, as they did in the past,” the Turkish official concluded.

In the meantime, hours after Turkey’s parliament approved a bill allowing the government to send troops to Libya, US President Donald Trump warned his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan against such a move.

“The leaders discussed bilateral and regional issues. President Trump pointed out that foreign interference is complicating the situation in Libya,” White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said in a statement.

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