Greece’s current participation in a number of important international energy projects is bringing the country closer to realizing its strategic goal of becoming an East-West energy link, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas said after meeting the prime minister yesterday. Sioufas, who attended the two-day meeting of the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris early this week, said he had agreed to sign with Italian counterpart Claudio Scajola a protocol for linking the two countries with an underwater pipeline that will carry natural gas from the Caspian Sea region to the West. He also noted as «good news» the agreement with Turkey to officially begin construction of the connecting pipeline next month, in the presence of the two countries’ prime ministers. The two projects will form the so-called horizontal axis for supplying Western Europe with Caspian natural gas. The 285-kilometer (177-mile) Greek-Turkish pipeline, beginning in Karacabey in the Sea of Marmara and ending in Komotini in Thrace, will initially be able to supply 3.5 billion cubic meters of gas annually, and may later be upgraded up to 11 billion. The total cost is estimated at 250 million euros, of which 118 million will be assumed by Greece. The European Union will subsidize the project, which has already begun on the Greek side, by 29 percent. Turkey is soon expected to declare the winner of a tender for its part of the pipeline and has pledged to start delivering natural gas by the end of 2006. The link with Italy will comprise a 600km pipeline from Komotini to the coast of the Ionian Sea in Epirus, and a further 220km underwater extension to Italy. The two parts are projected to cost 350 million and 600 million euros respectively. Efforts will be made to obtain financial support from the EU, which also subsidized the cost of the relevant feasibility study. On April 27 in Athens, Greece’s Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) and Italy’s Edison signed a memorandum of understanding for the implementation of this project. The final decision is expected to be made next year but the memorandum has already provided for the consortium, named Poseidon Co, which will construct the pipeline. DEPA and Edison will initially equally share costs and revenues but the scheme is open to the participation of other companies that may wish to join later. Sioufas noted that Greece’s geostrategic importance is further enhanced by the agreement which Russia, Bulgaria and Greece signed in Sofia on April 13. This agreement covers construction of the oil pipeline that will link the Bulgarian port of Burgas with Alexandroupolis on the Aegean, bypassing the Bosporus strait as a route for the transportation of Russian oil.