DEPA chief steps up pace

When at the end of the 1980s Greece was planning its much-heralded «natural gas project,» nobody could predict that 20 years later this project would secure the country a role on the international geopolitical stage. The Public Gas Corporation (DEPA) was the company set up to develop, import and supply this new form of fuel to the market. It started life as the black sheep of its parent company, DEP, and was forced to leave home and go it alone, as the natural gas market was virtually abandoned since the short-term policies of the time did not allow any prospects for a future growth-oriented strategy. These days, when international developments have transformed the black sheep into more of a promising bride, some people have repented over past decisions. At least by early 2000, some people suspected that Greece could have a key role in the new situation shaped by global energy developments. At that time, the aim of turning Greece into an «energy junction» between East and West started finding expression among government officials. This route passes through DEPA, the monopolistic state natural gas company which is now promoting the first investment plans in this direction. This is also the main challenge for DEPA’s management and its new CEO, Asimakis Papageorgiou, he tells Kathimerini in his first interview at this post. After just two months at the helm, but with plenty of experience, having handled the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian crisis in the Greek market, and received as an equal partner by the Gazprom president over the proposal for cooperation in piping natural gas to Europe through Greece, he now seems to have realized how big this challenge is. «It is only now that I am coming to terms with the size of this market and the prospects of this corporation,» he says, admitting that when the prime minister offered him the job he was not aware of the task at hand. In this short period he has realized that «DEPA is the vehicle for the government’s development policy in energy.» He believes that «significant work has already been made regarding the country’s interconnections and its role on the international energy stage;» he sees great grounds for cooperation with the Russians and considers the country’s aim to become a bridge between East and West to be plausible. «DEPA is a challenge in terms of development. Its infant stage has been completed and now it must grow into an adult. The great work done must expand as much as possible. We must grow in the domestic market and be ready for developments in the international environment,» stresses Papageorgiou. On the role the corporation has to play in making Greece an energy junction, he notes that «this strategic direction began shaping up last year and I am referring to the agreement for the construction of the Greece-Turkey and Greece-Italy pipelines. The visit of our Russian partners [the Gazprom chief] and the significant proposal they extended to us showed that they, too, realize Greece’s position in the same way. Enlarging the importance of natural gas gives us a presence on the international energy scene, possibly even as protagonists.» He estimates that the Russians just happen to be the only ones who can fill the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline with gas and he forecasts that the European Union will view the two countries’ cooperation positively. Domestic growth The local market is «the second major challenge» and Papageorgiou appears determined to speed up growth rates even if this means clashing with «mentalities and mechanisms of the past» that have been shown to be well established within the corporation and beyond it. He argues that the opening up of the electricity market will contribute decisively in the growth of DEPA and he sees scope for growth in domestic consumption as well. Within the next couple of months, definitive political decisions on the way the company will float in the stock market are expected, while by the end of the year DEPA will have completed its restructuring, as the law provides for its splitting into two parts: The parent company will control the domain of trading while the 100 percent subsidiary will control transmission. «We are expecting the political decisions about part-privatization to organize our strategy. Our main objective is to organize and operate the company in a way that will ensure it can respond to all challenges in the next 10-15 years,» Papageorgiou contends. He adds that «a key point to this is a change in the mentality and philosophy in the corporation.» Although he prefers not to elaborate on this point, he makes it clear that he will have to clash with «well-established mechanisms from the past which contravene the objective of the corporation’s development and strengthening.» As an ally in this effort, he cites the leadership of the Development Ministry, with which he maintains very good relations. Relations with HELPE, EPA He does not see problems in relations with Hellenic Petroleum (HELPE), which holds a 25-percent stake in the corporation and believes that «HELPE as stakeholders can only benefit from the new scheme to be created.» Similarly, he refutes rumors of clashes with the management of HELPE and of the Public Power Corporation (PPC): «I have very good relations with the administrations of both corporations. The fact that we and PPC, our greatest consumer, are revising the gas supply contracts does not mean we are clashing. We are negotiating as companies on the basis of securing our interests and I believe neither would benefit from a clash.» Papageorgiou also notes that problems in the cooperation with the management of subsidiary Gas Supply Corporations (EPA) in Attica, Thessaly and Thessaloniki are being solved; they were related to delays in the timetables of realizing objectives. He seems to have made it clear to the partners of Italgas in Thessaloniki and in Thessaly and of Cinergy-Shell in Attica that «targets are not set for us to look at but to realize.» The DEPA head avoids commenting on the problems of EPA Attica that have led to the recent replacement of General Director Dimitris Zisis. «The question is what we will do from now on,» he notes and stresses his decision for «the market to proceed at high rates.» The creation of three new EPAs will contribute to the end of broadening the market; they are about to be set up in the coming months.

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