Greece is entering a new era that leaves instability and uncertainty permanently behind it, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Tuesday while addressing a ceremony inaugurating construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) in Thessaloniki.
The conclusion of the first review of Greece’s bailout programme, an agreement for easing the debt and strong signs that growth will resume in the second half of 2016, as well as the inauguration of the TAP natural gas pipeline, are all indicators of this passage to a new era, Tsipras added. He also hailed the pipeline’s geostrategic significance in his address to the foreign officials gathered for the inauguration, noting that it was a project of regional cooperation.
The prime minister appeared confident that Greece was turning a corner and putting the worst behind it, noting that the end of the uncertainty that had dogged the economy in recent years will create “a stable environment for the large-scale attraction of productive investments.”
He also noted that this had been achieved “without budging from the August agreement” and that the Greek programme review was being concluded without additional measures, “with the economy and society upright”.
The funds that will be immediately disbursed under the agreement will cover the greater part of the state’s overdue
debts, he added, which would provide significant relief to the market. At the same time, unemployment was easing, budget revenues had exceeded targets, a new developmental law will be passed in early June, new alternative financing instruments were being set up and Greece will be participating in the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing programme, Tsipras pointed out. All this, along with a string of essential reforms that will reduce bureaucracy, will once again put Greece on a path of independent growth, he said.
An agreement for settling Greece’s debt, that the government expects will ratified by the Eurogroup next week, will foresee a reduction of spending to service Greek debt and release resources for investments and to increase employment, Tsipras said.
“With a resolution of the debt issue, instability and uncertainty will be permanently gone, allowing the Greek economy to express its productive potential; something that will lead to a permanent passage to a new era. This development will act to promote a successful conclusion of the fiscal adjustment programme for regaining the confidence of markets and a faster exit from the era of memorandums. It is this new era that we have come to signal at the TAP inauguration here in Thessaloniki. It is a happy coincidence that the inauguration of TAP coincides with good news about the Greek economy, so we have double the reasons to be happy and optimistic about a better future,” he said.
The start of TAP’s construction came at a crucial time for both Greece’s economy and the broader region around it, Tsipras noted during his address.
“Our countries – from the Caucasus to the central Mediterranean, which link Asia with Europe – are called on to support peace, stability and regional cooperation in a wider region of crises, conflict and emerging challenges. Crises and conflicts to the north – in the Black Sea – and to the south, in the Middle East and North Africa;
Challenges that our countries are called on to face in the economy, the management of refugee flows and security.
In this context, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline that will open the vitally important 3,500-kilometre Southern Gas Corridor is a project of regional cooperation not just of major economic significance but also great geostrategic
significance,” he said.
In addition to diversifying energy supply sources and energy security for Europe, the project can help make energy a “bridge of cooperation and prosperity for all in our region, not a source of exclusions, domination, crises and conflict,” he added.
The pipeline will transport up to 10 billion cubic metres of gas from Azerbaijan to Europe each year, while this capacity can increase to 20 billion in the future. It was also capable of “natural reverse flow”, so that natural gas could be supplied from Italy to southeastern Europe if the need arose, making it one of the most important energy projects underway worldwide, Tsipras pointed out. It can also be linked to existing or planned pipelines along its route, thus ensuring that the SGC can reach the widest possible range of energy markets.
The Greek premier also referred to the planned Gas Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB pipeline) and its role in Greece’s energy planning, as a ‘bridge’ for the transport of natural gas to southeastern and central Europe, or the LNG floating platform in Alexandroupolis.
“With a budget that exceeds 1.5 billion euros, TAP is one of the largest direct foreign investments in Greece, placing it for the first time – in terms of construction and not just planning – on the energy map and the map of pipelines,” Tsipras said. The project was expected to create 8,000 jobs and new orders for Greek companies and heavy industry that would be supplying the pipes and other materials used, he said. The project would also lead to higher employment on a local level, benefit consumers and was accompanied by a 32-million-euro Corporate Social Responsibility programme providing offset benefits for the local communities impacted by its construction.
“I would like to point out that the initial planning of the programme was for just 11 million euros, a sum that was significantly increase and will now concern very specific projects benefiting the regions the pipeline runs through,” he said.
After the speeches at the MET hotel, the prime minister and visiting foreign officials walked a short distance to Thessaloniki port and, in a purely symbolic gesture, wrote their signatures on a section of the pipeline.