Change of baton, not direction, new energy minister declares

Greece’s newly appointed Production Reconstruction, Environment and Energy Minister Panos Skourletis told today’s handover ceremony that his arrival represents a baton change at the ministry, not a change of direction. Skourletis replaces Panagiotis Lafazanis, who heads the radical Left Platform at Syriza, the coalition’s main party.

“We’re not talking about a change of direction, but a baton change,” remarked Skourletis at the ceremony. “The six months of negotiations highlighted the plan of the current dominant forces in Europe, which has very little to do with the people of Europe. The government was forced to agree to this [bailout] deal. It opted for it as, otherwise, a devastating wave threatened to intensify the humanitarian crisis,” he continued.

The new energy minister noted that Athens will continue supporting a plan to develop a natural gas pipeline with Russia as an extension of the Turkish Stream gas pipeline.

The outgoing Lafazanis stated that “pressure won’t stop the government’s effort from developing the Russian pipeline through Greek territory, as this is a significant matter for peace in our region and Europe.”

Lafazanis also noted that the government had made clear its support for the TAP project, to supply Azeri natural gas to Europe, since it was elected into power last January.

The West has not embraced Turkish Stream, Russia’s latest proposal for natural gas supply to Europe from the south.

Lafazanis, who sought to nurture closer ties between Greece and Russia during his six-month tenure, described Turkish Stream as more beneficial for Greece than the planned Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). “The Russian project will provide more benefits because Greece will own a 50% stake in the pipeline and because tariffs will be higher,” the ex-minister noted.

Greek state-owned Energy Investments Public Enterprise SA (EIPE SA) and Russia’s VEB Capital will be partners in the project. Investments into construction are expected to amount to 2 billion dollars. The project, to be entirely financed by the Russian side, is expected to create 20,000 jobs in Greece.

Greece and Russia signed a memorandum of cooperation for Turkish Stream last month at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Construction of the segment running through Greece is scheduled to start next year and be completed in 2019.