Egypt is set to become a main energy provider not just in the Mediterranean, where it has signed important bilateral deals with Israel and Greece, but also for the great and energy-hungry market of the European Union. Cooperation with its neighbour and EU member state Greece is essential in this context.
Egypt and Greece share amicable and ever-deepening relations on the military, financial and cultural levels, and their national interests coincide in both the Mediterranean and North Africa. On 25 November, Egypt and Greece furthered their relationship on the economic level following previous contacts between Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during the Sixth Ministerial Meeting of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum held in Cairo when the two sides concluded another ambitious project.
Egyptian Minister of Petroleum and Mineral resources Tarek Al-Molla signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Greek Minister for the Environment and Energy Konstantinos Skrekas that includes three major areas of cooperation, among them liquefied natural gas trading, research and exploration activities, and the linking of the two countries’ natural gas pipeline networks.
The European states have been dependent for decades on imports of Russian gas, likely to deteriorate with the certification of the Nord Stream 2 project in the Baltic Sea, a project forwarded by Germany and completed in September. Prior to the completion of Nord Stream 2, the EU was already importing 41 per cent of its gas from Russia. During the recent energy crisis, Europe’s reliance on such gas flows was made evident. Gas storage tanks in the EU reached their lowest seasonal level in a decade, while benchmark gas prices traded as high as 162 euros per Megawatt-hour, an 800 per cent increase compared to the first months of 2021.
There are now growing voices in Europe calling for greater energy autonomy and the active diversification of energy supplies. France, a country using nuclear power, has pledged to raise the issue of energy security on its assumption of the rotating presidency of the EU in January 2022. As a country on the southern border of the EU with a long tradition of maritime commercial tradition, Greece also favours new energy prospects for the EU. Egypt is a key state in securing European energy security.
Egypt has become a major energy hub in the Mediterranean, with overall gas production that has reached over seven billion cubic feet per day. Against the background of the European energy concerns described above, Egypt has the potential to become a vital partner for the EU. Egypt controls the huge offshore Zohr Field, discovered in 2018, which currently produces about three billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The EU needs cooperation with Egypt, and it needs to actively support Egyptian concerns on vital issues, such as the post-war landscape in Libya and the dispute over the building of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Thanks to its geographical location, territory formation and port facilities, Greece can function as a main intermediary transit route to transport Egyptian gas to European markets. The island of Crete lies between the Egyptian gas fields and ports and continental Europe, while the port of Piraeus, with its upgraded structure, is one of the busiest ports in Europe and can act as the entrance to EU territory.
The EU needs to find a strategic balance marked by amicable relations with the gas-producing states. Natural gas resources are vital not only because of their strategic importance, but also because of their climate-friendly dimensions, making Egypt a key state for European energy security.
* The writer is a lecturer in geopolitics at the University of Athens in Greece.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.