Egypt, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and Palestinian Authority signed in Cairo on 16 January the East Med Gas Forum (EMGF) foundation charter, creating a platform for East Mediterranean natural gas cooperation.

Cairo will be the headquarters of the forum, which was set up last year as part of efforts to transform the Eastern Mediterranean into a major energy hub.

“A new gas co-operation organisation was created in Cairo today, with the participation of seven countries in the Southeast Mediterranean, including Greece. The East Med Gas Forum is evolving into a permanent organisation, with the support of the European Union and the encouragement of the US and France,” the Greek Energy Ministry said in a press release on 16 January.

During the forum, the World Bank presented a study on the options for the natural gas reserves and gas infrastructure in the East Mediterranean.

Representing Greece at the signing ceremony, Greek Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis said this new organisation has a unique characteristic: “The participating countries in the Southeast Mediterranean use energy as a catalyst for peace and cooperation rather than a cause for conflict in an already troubled region.”

Hatzidakis said Turkey could also be part of this organisation under the condition that Ankara respects international law. “Unfortunately, until now Turkey’s illegal activities in Cyprus EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and the signing of the infamous memorandum with the government of (Fayez) al Sarraj in Libya prove the contrary,” the Greek Energy Minister said.

On the sidelines of the 3rd East Med Gas Forum in Cairo, Hatzidakis also met with Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz with whom he discussed further steps of cooperation after the signing of an intergovernmental agreement between Israel, Greece and Cyprus for the 1,900-kilometre EastMed pipeline in Athens on 2 January.

Asked if the EastMed agreement de facto cancels the controversial maritime border agreement between Turkey and Libya as it goes through the area claimed my these countries, Cyprus Natural Hydrocarbons Company CEO Charles Ellinas has told New Europe the signing of the EastMed gas pipeline inter-governmental agreement is an answer by the three governments, Israel, Cyprus and Greece, that they stand firmly behind their plans, but of course does not cancel the Turkey-Libya agreement.

“Even though the latter is not in agreement with the UN law of the seas, UNCLOS, Turkey is using it as an excuse in its attempt to extend its ‘control’ over a large part of the Eastern Mediterranean,” Ellinas said. “What the EastMed agreement also does is to strengthen the already close relationship between Israel, Cyprus and Greece at what has become a more difficult time in the Eastern Mediterranean because of Turkey’s aggressive actions,” he added.

On 16 January, Hatzidakis also met with Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Tarek El Molla in Cairo to discuss ways to boost bilateral gas cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean region and Egypt’s possible future participation in the EastMed pipeline, the Greek Energy Ministry said.

The Forum also​ discussed the results of the deliberations of the Gas Industry Advisory Committee, which will act as a link and platform for dialogue with the international gas industry, the Greek Energy Ministry said.

Meanwhile, Cyprus Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis was quoted as saying the Forum constitutes an example of how countries, even in difficult circumstances, can form alliances for the benefit of the people in the region. He added that the EastMed gas pipeline is one more example of how cooperation between countries can contribute to regional prosperity.

Steinitz also said the EMGF constitutes an example of cooperation for the benefit of the region.

Egypt, which started importing Israeli gas on 15 January, wants to become a regional gas hub. The Israeli gas is being bought by the Egyptian company Dolphinus Holdings, which has contracted to buy 85 billion cubic metres, worth an estimated $19.5 billion, from Israel’s Leviathan and Tamar fields over 15 years, Haaretz reported, adding that the gas is being shipped via a subsea pipeline connecting Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the liquefied natural gas (LNG) Idku plant in northern Egypt.

Steinitz said Israeli gas exports to Egypt might be re-exported to Europe via Egypt’s Idku plant in a few months. Reuters quoted him as saying Israel was talking to Egypt and India about exporting gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to India through the Suez Canal.

The next EMGF ministerial summit of the will take place in the second half of 2020 in Cairo.

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