Backstage diplomacy to promote energy projects

The next two months will be crucial for the course of Greece’s energy interconnections. The Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, which was on the back burner because of the elections in Bulgaria, will again return to the center of economic and political talks after President Georgi Parvanov’s election win yesterday. Although backstage diplomacy between Greece, Russia and Bulgaria went on before the election, Parvanov’s re-election will create a new impetus for promoting the project as agreed on September 4 in Athens. In November the three countries’ energy ministers will meet to prepare the signing of the interstate agreement at the end of the year. Greek Development Ministry officials say the timetable remains feasible. There is also activity on the Greece-Italy natural gas pipeline: Russia’s interest in constructing it so it transmits Russian natural gas remains strong as Russian giant Gazprom is eager to finish ahead of rival Azeri gas, to be available after 2011. Any delay would favor the US and EU plans, which prefer the Azeri gas. Last week the Energy Ministry’s general secretary, Nikos Stephanou, reportedly visited London and discussed a Euro-Mediterranean cooperation in energy, similar to that in industry, promoting Greece’s international role. Britain intends to play a role both in the Greece-Italy gas pipeline and the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline (with the participation of BP through the firm leading the Russian group of companies, TNK-BP). The British, who also want a greater role in EU energy matters, are said to support the US plans for inter-European networks, due to the two countries’ traditional alliance.