Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gathered in the Cypriot capital, Nicosia, for talks on a range of issues, both during their 4th trilateral summit as well as on the sidelines.
Tuesday’s meeting resulted in the signing of several bilateral and trilateral memorandums of understanding (MoU) in the sectors of space technology, satellite operations, telecommunications, and information and communications technology (ICT), as well as an MoU between their chambres of industry and commerce, among others. However, the group’s cross-border energy projects took center stage at the summit this year.
“This meeting had as a main focus, a flagship energy project – the EastMed pipeline,” said Greek Prime Minister Tsipras. The EastMed brings together Cyprus, Greece, Israel and Italy in the creation of a natural gas pipeline that will travel from the Eastern Mediterranean to Europe. Last year the energy ministers of each country gathered with the European Commissioner to debut their plans to connect the countries’ abundant gas resources, increasing the bloc’s much needed energy independence. “This is not only an energy project, it’s a project of the highest geopolitical importance,” Tsipras noted.
The European Union has a long-standing energy dependence on Russia, an issue which has grown over time, despite each member states’ efforts to increase its supply of domestic resources. Notwithstanding the progress the Union has made, especially in regard to the development of clean energy generation, it still purchases one-third of its gas imports and more than 85% of its oil from Russia, a trade relationship which heavily influences international politics between the two global heavyweights. What’s more, demand for energy resources are growing in Europe, at a rate of 20% over the past two decades. While member states are doing their upmost to curb fossil fuel production, their ability to substitute dirty energy with clean is still a work in process. As a result, while regional energy demand has grown, overall regional production has actually dipped by about 6% in the last ten years.
As a result, projects like the EastMed pipeline are being seen as a resource lifeline, not only for the country’s directly involved, but for the greater Mediterranean region and the continent. Tuesday’s meeting was followed by a press conference with the three leaders, as well as the publication of a formal declaration, in which the three stated that the project “represents a viable and strategic option of special interest, both for our countries and the European Union.” The project has already been awarded 34.5 million euros of EU funding for technical studies thanks to its categorisation as a project of common interest (PCI). Linking recently discovered gas reserves from Israel and Cyprus to Greece and Italy will drive competition within the EU market, increase energy integration, diversify resources, and help Europe meet its renewable goals, all of which are qualifications for PCI projects.
Not only did the leaders sign an MoU on Cooperation in Relation to the EastMed Pipeline Project, they also made the “commitment to conclude, as soon as possible within 2018, an Intergovernmental Agreement that would facilitate the promotion and implementation of the Project.”
While this sounds like the natural process of any cross-border energy project, the EastMed is a particularly complex endeavour, both logistically and politically, and will require a continuous group effort from all players in order to bypass regional complications that have long plagued the Mediterranean region. Given the complex history of the area, all three leaders expressed immense gratitude for the new bond that this project, as well as others, have provided. “Beyond the pipeline what is important is the human, the people and the civilisation pipeline,” said Tsipras.
“It seems inconceivable that our countries didn’t have this contact [before],” said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. “We are building a great alliance, an alliance for good through our three democracies….Three democracies in the Eastern Mediterranean with common interests because we have common values.” Israel’s leader talked on other cross-border infrastructure projects that the country has in the works, all involving European member states. In addition to the EastMed, there is also the EuroAsia Interconnecter, which will connect Greek, Cypriot, and Israeli power grids via the world’s longest submarine power cable, and an information pipeline in the form of a fibreoptics cable that will be laid next to EuroAsia interconnector. Lastly, he spoke of a human pipeline, referring to increased relations between the country’s citizens, and the fact that 1 out of 10 Israelis visit Greece or Cyprus each year.
The host, Cypriot President Anastasiades, told the press following the meeting, “Our summit was absolutely successful in the consecution of our targets,” and described the group’s teamwork in its upcoming endeavours as a “multilevel, trilateral partnership.”
The further integration of the Eastern Mediterranean means calmer waters in an otherwise turbulent area. As each member of the group has or is currently facing regional disputes with surrounding countries, this strategic partnership is creating a much needed geopolitical calm in the area. What’s more, a deeper integration between Cyprus, Israel and Greece on a public level is offering more confidence for private sector actors to engage in cooperations as well. Best of all, the solid democratic principles of the three countries are the foundations that President Anastasiades said are “allowing us to build bridges of communication between our government and our people.”
The next trilateral summit will take place Beersheba, Israel.