Interest in Southeast Europe’s role in the European Union’s energy security is growing throughout the broader area. This is why it is not surprising that a May 26 conference in Brussels attracted the interest of all key players in the area of Greece and Bulgaria, just a few weeks after the inauguration of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP).
Corina Creţu, the European Commissioner responsible for regional policy, opened the conference, which was titled “The Role of Europe’s Southeastern Periphery in the EU Energy Security.” She presented the new four-pillar packages of the Energy Union that the European Commission is slated to present in the coming months.
A whopping €69bn has been earmarked for the packages between 2014 and 2020. The funds are aimed to support energy efficiency with the goal of creating 80,000 new jobs during the five-year period, as well as boosting renewable energy, large energy infrastructure and sustainable transport.
As regards the third pillar, Creţu stressed that €2bn will be invested in Greece and in Bulgaria, doubling the amount already provided by the Connecting Europe Facility. This funding will support the interconnection of Greece’s Cyclades group of islands and Crete’s continental grid, as well as the Greece-Bulgaria natural gas pipeline.
Dimitris Papadimoulis, the Vice President of the European Parliament and GUE/NGL MEP, outlined the EU’s three priorities: energy security, energy sources differentiation and environmental protection, as well as the necessary regional cooperation and multilateral partnerships.
“The EU has to work closely with its partners,” said Papadimoulis, stressing that the need for energy infrastructure is vital.
“Everything can be feasible if there is political will,” he added.
As regards the inauguration of the TAP in Thessaloniki, northern Greece, Papadimoulis described it as a “groundbreaking project, part of the Southern corridor” and as “the biggest construction project of our time”, and a “strategic priority for the Greek government.”
Greece’s former environment minister, Yannis Maniatis, a professor and MP with the Democratic Coalition, also spoke of the importance of the TAP for the region that is being challenged by the refugee and migration crisis and that is testing European solidarity.
Maniatis stressed the need to secure investments and make funds available, as banks have shortened funds due to financial crisis. He also emphasised cooperation.
“The region still remains fragmented,” he said, adding that “better cooperation, aggregation of demand and increase of storing capacity” is the key, combined with a common political platform.
“Market reforms will have to be implemented in order to overcome gaps and provide sustainable energy,” he added.
In turn, Bulgaria’s former environment minister, Julian Popov, agreed with Maniatis on the need for more regional cooperation. He suggested that the area is undergoing a transformation – a fuel transition. “We have to bring the countries together, let’s talk,” he said.
The list of featured speakers at the conference included Gerasimos Thomas, the deputy director general of the EU Commission’s DG Energy, Theodoros Kitsakos, the CEO of Public Gas Corporation (DEPA – Greece), Konstantinos Xifaras, the CEO of Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA – Greece), Elio Ruggeri, the Senior Vice President & Head for International Gas Projects, Edison & CEO, IGI Poseidon S.A, as well as Stavros Goutsos, Deputy CEO of Public Power Corporation (PPC – Greece) and Niki Tzavela, a former MEP. They discussed the European policy framework, investments and developments in southeast Europe’s energy sector, major infrastructure projects and electricity markets, gas penetration and renewable energy resources.