ATHENS – Following Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’ visit to Baku on 19 May and Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller’s visit to Athens on 21 May it now appears Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR is moving closer to acquiring Greek network operator DESFA and the Russian gas giant is ready to buy Public Gas Corporation (DEPA).

Final bids have to be submitted by 29 May. “The deadline has not changed,” Maria Tsinaridou, a media representative of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund (TAIPED), told New Europe on 24 May. She was commenting on recent media reports that another small delay maybe in the cards. The privatisation has been delayed several times in the past. Once the binding offers have been submitted, the final decision “will be taken within days,” Tsinaridou said.

On 21 May, Miller and Samaras held a working meeting. This was the third visit by Gazprom officials to Athens since March. Miller also met with Privatization Agency (TAIPED) head Stelios Stavridis to seek assurances that Gazprom will not have to deposit 20% of the purchase price as a guarantee before the sale gets European Union approval. Greece has reportedly already agreed to reduce the required guarantee. Gazprom is concerned that the Commission might block the DEPA acquisition, in which case it would lose the deposited guarantee.

The office of EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger told New Europe on 24 May that “to our knowledge the selection process is not finalised yet thus we don’t elaborate on the different options. We can only repeat what we said many times that the acquisition of DEPA and/or DEFSA will in any event have to comply fully with the EU competition and internal market rules”.

On 22 May, EU leaders in Brussels discussed ways of lowering energy prices, including diversifying Europe’s energy sources and connecting EU member countries to a common grid. “Import-wise making sure no country relies on a single supplier or supply route and production-wise exploiting Europe’s energy potential to the full,” European Council Herman Van Rumpoy said.

In 2012, Gazprom provided about 60% of DEPA’s gas. It cut its supply prices by about 7% in 2011, but industry sources say prices are still comparatively high.

A representative at the office of Greece’s Deputy Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change (YPEKA) reminded that Gazprom didn’t bid for DESFA and SOCAR didn’t bid for DEPA. She told New Europe on 24 May that she was certain that the companies that would acquire the Greek energy majors would be scrutinised by the EU approval mechanisms to make sure they comply with European rules and regulations.

In related developments, Samaras visited Azerbaijan where he discussed energy co-operation, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and SOCAR’s interest in DESFA. Greece is trying to increase its chances of securing a deal on TAP. The Shah Deniz consortium, which includes SOCAR and is developing Azerbaijan’s offshore field, is expected to decide between TAP and the rival Nabucco West, which bypasses Greece, by the end of June.

But the representative from Greece’s Environment, Energy and Climate Change Ministry noted that SOCAR’s decision to bid for DESFA has no connection to TAP. “At the time when SOCAR made its bid for DESFA, the country [Greece] hadn’t even committed to TAP,” the representative said.

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