Greece needs to find ways of decreasing its heavy reliance on oil even though its unleaded fuel prices are substantially lower than in most other European Union countries, Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas told Sunday’s Kathimerini. Sioufas said oil prices have gone up by 150 percent since the beginning of 2004. During that time the price of unleaded fuel in Greece, which averages at just over 1 euro per liter, has increased by 43 percent. «The retail price of unleaded gas in our country is the lowest of the 15 pre-enlargement EU member states,» said the minister. «And during the last few months it has been 20-22 percent below the average of these 15 EU countries.» In May 2004, Sioufas and Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis suggested at an EU meeting that a mechanism should be put in place whereby member states could reduce their taxes on fuel when oil prices rise rapidly. The proposal was rejected but Sioufas said he now feels vindicated that Greece proposed the measure as oil prices continued to shoot up, hitting record highs. Rising global oil prices have hit Greece harder than many other countries because it is extremely reliant on this form of fuel. Sioufas told Sunday’s Kathimerini that efforts are being made to change this. «Other EU countries have taken measures to lessen their dependency on oil after the crises in the past,» the minister said. «But Greece has not done this. One would say that Greece has continued to operate as if it is an oil producer and not as if it imported almost 100 percent of its oil.» Although some Greek households have switched to using natural gas for heating instead of oil, the impact on reducing the country’s need for oil has been small and Sioufas admits that the process to move to alternative energy sources will take time. «This effort will need more time and, naturally, many more changes in the way our economy functions and is structured,» the minister said. Sioufas accompanied President Karolos Papoulias on a five-day visit to Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain last week, during which Greece sought to develop ties, with one eye on its energy needs. On Friday, the minister began his own five-day visit to Egypt, where he signed a memorandum of cooperation which will see Greece act as a hub for Egyptian natural gas and oil, which will then be sold to other European countries.