With an eye on consolidating the bilateral relationship between Egypt and Greece, especially under the umbrella of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), Egypt Oil & Gas had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the Environment and Energy Minister of Greece, Kostis Hatzidakis.

In light of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF), to what extent do you believe the forum will help deepen the relations between Egypt and Greece specifically and among the East Mediterranean countries in general?

The relationship between our two countries has always been exemplary. There are many historic ties that positively unite the two countries, as well as an important and vibrant Greek diaspora living in Cairo and Alexandria.  Since 2014, we have further consolidated our cooperation by enhancing and deepening our dialogue in several sectors that also includes the Republic of Cyprus. More recently, both Greece and Cyprus enthusiastically endorsed and supported the idea of the Egyptian government to establish the East Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). The EMGF has the potential to progressively evolve into the first ever energy organization of the Mediterranean Sea, not just its eastern part. It brings together many important countries and, within this context, its positive development will add another productive layer of cooperation between Greece and Egypt.

One of the main targets of the EMGF is to establish an intergovernmental regional gas market. In your opinion, what are the steps needed to reach that goal?

The emergence of an integrated gas market in the Eastern Mediterranean, that will help to jointly monetize the region’s natural gas discoveries in an optimal way, is a very complex and complicated undertaking, but one which is worthy to strive for. In this process we need to strike the right balance between the public and private interests, work together to identify the best possible monetization options and promote the projects which would have the highest common denominator of interest for all parties involved.

One such option is the utilization of the East Mediterranean Gas (EMG) pipeline connecting El-Arish with Ashkelon through which Israeli gas will flow to Egypt. Another option is the potential pipeline that will transfer the Cypriot gas to the Egyptian liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal to Idku, which in turn could reach Greece and the European Union (EU) markets via the Greek Natural Gas Transmission System (NGTS). A third, if not more long-term option, is the construction of the East Med Gas Pipeline, linking the reserves of Israel and Cyprus with Greece and via Greece with the Italian market.

In light of your meeting with the Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources, Tarek El Molla, what are some future cooperation opportunities that can be created to develop the bilateral ties between the two countries, especially under the umbrella of the EMGF?

As I mentioned, our bilateral relations are already at a very productive level. Greek oil companies, such as Hellenic Petroleum, trade in Egyptian crude oil. Greek companies are actively participating in Egypt’s booming upstream oil and gas sector such as Energean. There is a strong relationship between our Center for Renewable Energy Sources and Saving and its Egyptian counterparts. There are plans by Greek electricity companies, such as the Kopelouzos Group, to build several gigawatts (GW) of renewable electricity in Egypt and export some of them back to Greece through an underwater electricity cable. The EMGF is an excellent framework to further enhance these existing trends and find prospective new ways of cooperation.

The EMGF members approved the establishment of an advisory committee for the gas industry to allow for private sector participation. To what extent is the participation of the private sector crucial for enhancing the relations between the member countries? 

I believe it to be very important. We need to be able to assess how our decisions affect market players, how international oil companies (IOCs) and national oil companies (NOCs) best interact, how to best align different regulatory frameworks which is of particular significance for the members of the EMGF which are EU member-states. All successful international and regional energy fora and/or organization encourage private sector engagement in ways that of course would not infringe upon the powers of the member-states.

In your opinion, what are the major steps Greece intends to take to enhance its existence among the member countries?

Greece intends to be a harbinger of cooperation and a promoter of synergy in EMGF. We would always strive to build consensus, although some aspects of the EMGF decision making processes, such as the question of new members, would be best taken through unanimity. Greece is emerging as an important transit hub between the EU and the Eastern Mediterranean, is an important gas consumer on its own right and maybe soon a hydrocarbons producer. As such, we perceive our energy security through several dimensions and we can bring this multidimensional approach to the EMGF.

Greece is at a very competitive edge, due to its facilities and location, as an energy hub. What are the main phases required to achieve that target?

I believe the first step in this direction is the completion of commercial operations of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline, which is expected in 2020, and the Interconnector Pipeline Bulgaria Greece that we hope to commission within 2021. Both projects would highlight the role of Greece as a very important transit state for the EU’s energy security strategy, since it would enhance the Union’s and the region’s diversification of import sources and routes. In the same context, I would also underline the role of our major LNG regasification facility in Revythousa and the potential for new LNG import facilities further north, such as the Alexandroupolis floating storage regasification unit (FSRU) project.