EU opposes dependence on Russian gas

The European Union is concerned by Russian efforts to use Greece as another gateway for natural gas giant Gazprom into Western European gas and electricity markets. Taking advantage of the recent warming in Greek-Russian relations which culminated in the signing of a three-state agreement, also involving Bulgaria, for the construction and operation of the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, Gazprom wants to extend its Greek natural gas business. Last Wednesday, Gazprom Chairman Alexei Miller made a quick trip to Athens, promising the government his company could cover Greece’s natural gas needs until 2040. It was officially announced that Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas requested an increase in the guaranteed natural gas supply from 2.8 billion cubic meters (bcm) until 2016 – as the agreement with state natural gas company DEPA stipulates – to 5 bcm until 2040. DEPA would be guaranteed the 2.8 bcm while Gazprom would trade the remaining amount on the Greek market or through third companies. The aim is to sign a bilateral agreement by the end of the year. Apparently, Gazprom not only wants to become Greece’s long-term monopoly gas supplier but also wants to trade directly and not through DEPA. It has followed a similar policy in Italy and France, putting domestic companies in a difficult position. Gazprom appears to be preparing its entry as a retailer using Prometheus Gas, the company it set up jointly in 1991 with Greece’s Kopelouzos Group, whose owner, Dimitris Kopelouzos, is a former New Democracy MP. This increased natural gas supply to Greece must find an alternative pipeline to the one now supplying Greece via Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. This would mean using the Greek-Turkish pipeline, now under construction and expected to open this summer. Gazprom is mostly interested in the planned extension of this pipeline to Italy, which would allow it to supply Western European markets with 11 bcm of gas. It is this prospect that the EU has reacted against, through Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, a Latvian. After meeting with both Sioufas and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, Piebalgs warned against filling the Turkey-Greece-Italy pipeline with Russian gas and recommended diversification. «Russia is not the problem; Gazprom’s monopoly is,» Piebalgs reportedly said.

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