The 2019 Delphi Economic Forum (the 4th of the kind, which clearly has matured as a focal point for regional debate with international radiance) has covered quite wide a range of topics. Regional stability had a central role, with the Prespes Agreement between Greece and Northern Macedonia getting much attention (mainly in an acclaim mode). The notion of “inclusive growth” was widely discussed under several angles (partly in a search mode). Still, one issue that attracted the attention of a varied constituency was the one of energy politics in the region.
Everybody was waiting for Tristan Asprey of ExxonMobil (his full title: V.P. for Europe, Russia and the Caspian Sea), fresh from the national gas finds in the EEZ of Cyprus. He was positive as to the importance of the “Glafkos” field and ExxonMobil intentions in Eastern Mediterranean, but careful enough to say that further exploration work has to be undertaken to really assess the output expected. Based on the aggregate finds in Cyprus, Egypt and Romania – the latter were also pointed at by Romanian Vice Prime Minister Ana Birchall, who reminded the audience that Romanian oil fields were the earliest finds of hydrocarbons in Europe… - Asprey etched a perspective of Southeastern Europe becoming a key natural gas supplier of Europe.
Ambassador (retired) Richard Morningstar, a long-time expert of energy geopolitics, chimed in stressing that alternative energy sources would contribute to European energy security; Caspian Sea natural gas (through the TAP pipeline) but also U.S. - originating LNG would be thus supplemented, while the market would determine prices, free from political interference.
One should note the extreme self-restraint of Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides who – speaking at the DEF Plenary – carefully avoided to discuss fore estimates concerning the Cyprus EEZ finds. He reiterated the position that the exploration phase should be left to mature in the hands of the companies involved.
When the issue of Greek potential energy/natural gas resources was brought to the fore, former Energy Minister Yannis Maniatis expressed his disappointment at the slow pace of allotting exploration rights; Opposition M.P. Kostas Skrekas joined in the same criticism. Current environment and Energy Minister George Stathakis insisted that all necessary legal groundwork was proceeding by the book.
Back to T. Asprey: he made the point that the exploration areas West and South of Crete that are in the process to be awarded (to ExxonMobil, along with Total and – Greek – ELPE) are one of the last unexplored hydrocarbon “frontiers” in Europe – so everybody is having a close look to how things will proceed there.
Last but not least: as the wider debate over regional geo-politics evolved in DEF, with the role of Turkey being discussed time and again, the feeling emerged – without overt discussion for the most – that some way would have to be found, to bring in/associate Turkey to the overall debate, if the region is to “operate as major alternative energy source for Europe” within a credible time-frame.