NEWS

Energy tops talks agenda between Azeris and Greeks

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and visiting Azeri President Ilham Aliyev on Monday discussed two major investments that promise to draw much-needed revenue – the privatization of Greece’s gas transmission network (DESFA) and the construction of the Trans Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP), that would cross Greece.

At a meeting of Greek and Azeri entrepreneurs in Athens, both leaders emphasized the deepening of bilateral relations and the prospects for economic cooperation. Noting that the two countries “have grown very close recently,” Samaras pointed to prospects “beyond energy,” mentioning trade, tourism and agriculture as potential areas for cooperation. Samaras described Azerbaijan as a leading player in the Caucus region and Greece as a “gateway” for energy, trade and tourism from Asia to Europe. Aliyev, for his part, hailed Greece as a “strong player in the region and a long-term partner,” adding that TAP was not just an energy project but a way to “bring our relations to a higher level.”

According to sources, Aliyev’s talks with Samaras and other top officials on Monday focused on the progress of the two projects, particularly that of the DESFA sell-off, which has been delayed for a year due to objections by the European Commission’s competition authorities. Greek officials conveyed to their Azeri counterparts the EC’s reassurances that the project will be completed in the fall, the sources said. The fact that Greece’s energy regulator, RAE, recently provided officials in Brussels with details confirming DESFA’s compliance with EU competition laws is believed to have removed the final obstacles to the transfer of the state’s 66 percent stake in DESFA to Azeri state energy company Socar.

Socar is also involved in the much-vaunted TAP – a European drive to create an alternative to Russian gas imports. TAP involves Greece, Italy and Albania, which early last year signed a deal foreseeing the construction of a pipeline to deliver Caspian natural gas to the European Union.

At a working lunch, Greek and Azeri officials discussed a series of practical problems holding up the pipeline project, including objections by residents in Kavala and Serres in northern Greece, and in Apulia, southern Italy. Greek officials expressed confidence that they could overcome local objections so that building can progress smoothly on the Greek section of the project.

The visit to Athens by Aliyev, who also met his Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and other top government officials, came just a few days before another, equally significant, arrival.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is due in Athens on Thursday for what authorities hope will mark the beginning of a boost in bilateral trade relations with several investments expected to be signed. Li is expected to stress Beijing’s interest in the Piraeus and Thessaloniki port authorities, Athens International Airport, Trainose, which is the operating arm of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), and other state-controlled assets that are slated for privatization.

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