With privatization and foreign direct investment lagging, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has discussed the sale of the country’s gas transmission network DESFA with visiting Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev, and the construction of the the Trans Adriatic Gas Pipeline (TAP) that would cross Greece.
Greece is under pressure to speed the sell-off of state enterprises to help offset a crushing economic crisis and a recession that’s in its seventh year, but the government is far behind the goals set by the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) that put up 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in two bailouts.
Aliyev’s talks with Samaras and other top officials on June 16 focused on the progress of the two projects, Kathimerini said, particularly that of the DESFA sell-off, which has been delayed for a year due to objections by the European Commission’s competition authorities.
Greek officials reportedly told Aliyev that they believe the EU will give the go-ahead in the fall for the sale of DESFA. Greece’s energy regulator, RAE, recently provided officials in Brussels with details confirming DESFA’s compliance with EU competition laws as Greece hopes to sell the state’s 66 percent stake in DESFA to Azeri state energy company SOCAR.
The Azeri gas company is a key partner in TAP, which the EU hopes will be an alternative to Russian gas imports on which much of the region relies for its energy source.
TAP involves Greece, Italy and Albania, which early last year signed a deal aiming to build a pipeline to deliver Caspian natural gas to the European Union.
At a working lunch, Greek and Azeri officials were said to have discussed a series of problems holding up the pipeline, including objections by residents in Kavala and Serres in northern Greece, and in Apulia, southern Italy. Greek officials said they were confident they could smooth over the reservations so that the Greek section can be built without resistance.
At a meeting of Greek and Azeri entrepreneurs in Athens, Samaras and Aliyev talked about expanding relations between the countries and mutually beneficial economic ties.
Samaras pointed to prospects “beyond energy,” mentioning trade, tourism and agriculture as potential areas for cooperation. Samaras described Azerbaijan as a leading player in the Caucus region and Greece as a “gateway” for energy, trade and tourism from Asia to Europe.
Aliyev hailed Greece as a “strong player in the region and a long-term partner,” adding that TAP was not just an energy project but a way to “bring our relations to a higher level.”
The visit to Athens by Aliyev, who also met his Greek counterpart Karolos Papoulias, PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos and other top government officials, came just a few days before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was due.
Samaras is also wooing the Chinese, who are already major players in Greece in Piraeus, to make more investments and to boost growing bilateral trade between the countries.
Li is expected to stress Beijing’s interest in the Piraeus and Thessaloniki port authorities, Athens International Airport, Trainose, which is the operating arm of the Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE), and other state-controlled assets that are slated for privatization.