The new government in Athens could open a pipeline to export natural gas from
countries including Israel to destinations in northern Europe, as Greece seeks
to become a regional center for the transit of this energy source.
are trying to make Greece the hub for gas transit to northern European countries
either via Italy or through the Balkans,” Greece’s environment, energy and
climate change minister stressed to The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview
on Monday morning in Jerusalem.
The minister, Giorgos Papakonstantinou,
was the first Greek official to visit Israel since the country’s November 11
formation of a new coalition unity government headed by interim Prime Minister
As two strong democratic powers in an ever-developing
Mediterranean region, Israel and Greece must continue its path to forge new
partnerships, particularly in the natural gas and renewable energy sectors, he
In that context, the discussions with Israel are ongoing about the
possibility to of bringing in Israeli gas, and this has been discussed at the
high level in the past between the two prime ministers.
does not have a wealth of its own proven oil or gas reserves, aside from some
oil pumped out of the north for the past years, but this may be due to the fact
that explorations have not occurred for quite a while, according to
Recently, however, the government put out tenders for
seismic surveys on the west coast of the mainland and the south of Crete, he
“The scientific evidence that we have shows that there are
reserves in both places – we have to see how large these reserves are,” he said,
noting that these reserves should help “restore some of the balance and improve
energy self-sufficiency in Greece” and also provide some exploration
opportunities to international, and perhaps Israeli, companies.
this process was only launched about six months ago, and probably won’t be in
full-swing until next year, it has raised Greek “ambitions and hopes,”
Also in the Mediterranean natural gas realm, the
Greek minister stressed that cooperation with neighboring Turkey is vital to his
country, in order, for example, to bring gas from the Caspian Sea to northern
Europe. He did not, however, find any truth in recent Turkish claims that
Israeli and Cypriot natural gas drilling is illegal.
“We believe very
much that every country should be allowed and able to do its explorations within
the context of national and international and its legal rights. And clearly
Cyprus and Israel are in that position,” he said.
After serving a
year-and-ahalf as finance minister, Papakonstantinou took the position of
environment, energy and climate change minister in June 2011, with hopes of
bringing Greece up to speed in a “very fast-moving sector in both conventional
energy and renewables,” investing in protecting the environment and creating
jobs in the process, he said.
And in all of these areas, Papakonstantinou
sees Israel as a potentially integral partner.
“Our energy mix is a
little like Israel’s, dependent primarily on traditional energy sources, mostly
coal and increasingly gas,” he told the Post. “But for the last few years there
has been a very determined move to change the mix and move to renewable
For Greece, the main renewable energy source is currently wind,
but solar photovoltaics have the most rapid growth – while since 2009, the
number of renewable energy installations total has doubled throughout the
country, according to Papakonstantinou.
“We have set a target of 20
percent [renewable energy] for 2020,” he said. “In terms of the actual permits
currently granted, we have already reached the target but not in terms of
installations – installations are still lagging behind, mostly because of
difficulty of financing at the moment.”
Following the interview with the
Post, Papakonstantinou was set to meet with both National Infrastructure
Minister Dr. Uzi Landau and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, to
discuss Greece’s latest projects in both the energy and environmental sectors
and potential for cooperation with both ministries.
One such program is
the Helius Project, in which Greece aims to become an outlet for transporting
solar energy generated to northern Europe, a project that could also offer
Israelis an opportunity to transfer their own energy or receive Greek solar
energy in the future, he explained.
“[In Israel] there is a lot of
technology, but you have less potential in terms of land available to be able to
have large installations,” Papakonstantinou said.
Other important issues
of infrastructural and environmental collaboration that Papakonstantinou said he
intends to discuss with the Israeli ministers include water management,
treatment and desalination, as well as waste disposal and management.
[talked] this morning with some very interesting Israeli companies that have
solutions for these things. We are in the process at the moment in Greece – with
a lot of projects at the municipal level and in large cities – to improve water
management,” he said.
Natural gas – which Israel is currently developing
enormous quantities of in the Mediterranean Sea – is another potential source of
“There’s been a lot of discussion on looking at the
technical and financial feasibility for pumping Israeli gas to Greece,”
Papakonstantinou said. At the same time, he stressed, there are also ongoing
discussions about how to bring natural gas into Europe from outside sources,
such as the Caspian Sea.
While the ongoing economic crisis in Greece has
forced the country to do some “fiscal tightening” in all sectors,
Papakonstantinou said he hasn’t thus far had to make any environmental
sacrifices, especially due to the EU funds that the country receives for such
“This government, the government since 2009, has argued that
green growth, green investments are one of the solutions for the country’s
future,” he said. “This is why we’re making a big push to renewables and this is
why... I have been pushing investments that are beneficial for the environment
but at the same time create jobs.”
On that same track, the minister said
he was confident, “without any doubt,” that Greece would remain in the
“There’s a clear understanding that the problems are systemic
– they’re not just the problems of one country and if you cut off that one
country you’d save the rest – we’re all in this together,” he said, “and
solutions have to be found for the euro to be able to survive with all its
Echoing comments that Papademos made last week to Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Papakonstantinou once again stressed the importance
of continually enhanced cooperation with Israel and praised the “new page” that
has been turned during the previous Greek administration and continuing into the
“We have always had good ties with the Arab world and we
have also been an important player in a region that is evolving very rapidly,”
Papakonstantinou said. “Israel has an absolutely critical role to play in how
the region evolves.”