By Makis Georghiou
Officials in Brussels have played down threats from Athens that it plans to derail a major European electric cable project by imposing its own conditions, saying these are a “smokescreen” to cover up for the illegal actions of the authorities in Greece.
They added that the about-face of the Greek government to abandon an existing venture with Cypriot partners to build a subsea cable from mainland Athens to Crete and then on to Cyprus and Israel, is in violation of Commission regulations and linked to municipal elections in May.
“We will not comment on what is being said in Greece at the moment, in order not to get entangled in the electoral process, that coincides with the European Parliament vote,” the source in Brussels said, on condition of anonymity.
“However, as Greece has barely exited its lengthy economic adjustment programme with (the Troika), some should not haste to think they can manipulate the Commission into agreeing to new terms and impose unacceptable conditions. This attitude hampers the credibility of the Greek authorities, who know all too well that such violations are subject to a harsh infringement process, regardless if Athens has exited the programme,” the source said.
Another European official said the Commission is perplexed by Greece’s actions, “on the one hand, asking for grants to complete infrastructure projects, while on the other expecting (Brussels) to recognise a brand new project, hastily set up and which contravenes the Commission’s decisions in every way.”
“We cannot be expected to violate our own decisions, agreed by all stakeholders and European energy bodies, including the Cyprus and Greek regulators,” the official added.
He referred to a recent statement by Energy and Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete urging the Greek side to return to talks with the Cypriot partners and that “the shortest time for the implementation of the Crete-Attica interconnection is through PCI 3.10 EuroAsia Interconnector.”
In Athens, Energy and Environment Minister Giorgos Stathakis issued a veiled threat this week saying that the government will remove the “project of common interest” (PCI) designation from the Crete-Attica segment of the EuroAsia Interconnector.
He said that Greece’s support for the PCI status would be conditional to handing over all authorship of the entire project to Ariadne, the wholly owned subsidiary of transmission system operator ADMIE established last year.
The EuroAsia Interconnector has been recognised by the European Commission as the sole project promoter of the entire Israel-Cyprus-Greece cable and inducted among the Union List of PCIs for the Priority Corridor North-South Electricity Interconnections in Central Eastern and South Europe ("NSI East Electricity").
The PCI status makes the project eligible for EU grants from the Connecting Europe Facility, to the tune of about EUR 350 mln, as well as lower-cost borrowing from the European Investment Bank and other institutions.
This means that ultimately the EuroAsia project would be about EUR 500-600 mln cheaper to build than the Ariadne project, that has not yet commissioned its own surveys.
“Based on the planning and progress of the works, at present, the project would have already been awarded and would today be in the construction phase within the pre-agreed timeframes,” (June 2022 for Crete-Attica and December 2023 for Crete-Cyprus), EuroAsia said in a statement.
Former Cyprus Transport Minister Marios Demetriades has appealed to the Greek side to resume talks under a European Commission Roadmap to conclude the Crete-Attica section as a priority for the entire project.
“I sincerely hope a more reasoned and mature approach will soon emerge that enables the entire Israeli-Greek electricity interconnection project via Crete and Cyprus to return within the fold of the European Union so the much-needed Crete-Attica electricity link can be built in the quickest possible time at the lowest possible cost for the Greek taxpayer,” wrote Demetriades, who is also a board member of EuroAsia.
He warned that a transformer explosion at an outdated power station at Linoperamata that plunged the Greek island into darkness, made Crete vulnerable and “prompted residents and local politicians to demand an end to delays of the Crete-Attica electricity interconnection that would ensure the island’s energy security.”
Meanwhile, similar to the Brussels warning of the start of sanctions against Athens, Greek opposition spokesman Costas Skrekas warned in a heated debate with Minister Stathakis in parliament in early March that the Commission is “preparing an infringement process, meaning a penalty imposed on Greece because after all you will not implement the PCI and you have not satisfied the TEN-E regulations.”
In further comments this week, Skrekas said Greece faces another infringement process for the life extension given to the outdated power plants at Amyntaio and Kardia, in complete violation of EU demands to decommission them and limit toxic emissions.
Makis Georghiou is a correspondent for geopolitical, maritime and regional energy issues