EBRD link to DESFA sale carrying geopolitical dimension

A US effort aiming to limit Russia’s influence over European energy matters is believed to be behind the participation of the EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, in a tender offering a 66 percent stake of DESFA, Greece’s natural gas grid operator.

Last Friday morning, just hours ahead of an afternoon deadline set for binding bids, the EBRD board, confirming previous energypress reports, decided it would join one of the two bidding teams in contention for the DESFA stake. The team is headed by Spain’s Regasificadora del Noroeste (Reganosa) and includes Romania’s Transgaz.

This consortium is up against a team led by Italy’s Snam and also comprised of Spain’s Enagas, Belgium’s Fluxys as well as Dutch operator Gasunie, which is expected to withdraw from this four-member team.

Headquartered in London, the EBRD, established in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, is currently owned by 65 countries and two European institutions – the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the EU. The role of the US, one of the EBRD’s co-owners, in the bank’s decisions is highly influential.

DESFA’s sale has taken on a geopolitical dimension, as was made apparent at last week’s Athens Energy Forum event. US energy-sector interests in the wider region were made clear at the event. As has been the case in the past, the US, closely monitoring regional developments, is continuing to place major emphasis on a policy pushing for energy source diversification and retreat from the Russian sphere of political and economic influence.

A leading US embassy finance official, speaking at the Athens Energy Forum, noted that the exploitation of energy-sector matters as a means for applying political pressure is a classic Moscow strategy.

The diplomat noted that the two pillars supporting Europe’s energy strategy – source diversification and supply security – are reducing the continent’s dependence on Russia and limiting the ability of any country to exploit the energy sector as a political tool.

Such thoughts strongly suggest that the EBRD’s involvement in the DESFA tender carries a geopolitical dimension, besides boosting the Reganosa-led consortium’s chances.

The levels of the binding offers submitted by the two remaining participants last Friday afternoon are expected to be announced within the next few days.

It remains to be seen whether the wider developments surrounding DESFA are in any way related to growing rumors of a planned capacity increase of over 10 bcm for TAP, as soon as construction of this natural gas pipeline, running across northern Greece, is completed.