DESFA 17% stake down to two European major contenders

Belgium’s Fluxys and Dutch company Gasunie are the two remaining candidates – formally, at least – for a 17 percent stake of DESFA, Greece’s natural gas grid operator, officials at TAIPED, the State Privatization Fund, have informed energypress.

The two candidates have expressed their interest in writing to TAIPED, unlike Italy’s Snam, which has yet to clarify its position but has seemed slightly more interested in recent times.

“I think we are close to completing a deal, but it may take us a further two to three months before the agreement is finalized. The Belgian and Dutch companies appear to be warmest about the prospect,” remarked an official who is well informed on the dealings between TAIPED and interested European parties.

The establishment of a new privatization fund will need to be achieved before the sale can be completed as one of 23 privatizations included in August’s Greek bailout agreement.

At least two to three months are expected to be required before procedures concerning the involvement of European firms in the sale are completed. It remains unclear why this additional time may be necessary to clinch a deal as no major pending issues seem to exist.

Officials of the Azeri energy company Socar – which is believed to be willing to reduce a 66 percent DESFA stake it had originally agreed to with Greek officials, for a 49 percent share instead, following European Commission intervention, presumably over EU energy security concerns – have been stationed in Athens for quite some time now to keep a close watch on developments and maintain ongoing contact with TAIPED officials.

Belgian and Dutch officials appear to be complying with European Commission demands, and seem to have achieved settlements with Azeri officials on outstanding issues.

The DESFA sale process, now over two years old, is the only privatization plan that has not been questioned by any Greek government, not even the Syriza-led administration that included former energy minister Panayiotis Lafazanis, a radical leftist who recently launched his own anti-eurozone Popular Unity party.

A hot contender until recently, Italy’s Snam has linked its interest in buying a 17 percent share of DESFA with its objective of acquiring a 20 percent stake in the TAP (Trans Adriatic Pipeline) project to carry Azeri natural gas to Italy via Greece, according to reports. Snam’s CEO Carlo Malacarne recently told Reuters his company will reach a final decision by the end of 2015.