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Cracks appear in EastMed pipeline

East Med gas pipeline

CRACKS seem to be forming among the countries participating in the EastMed gas pipeline, raising questions over the project’s feasibility, if media reports are to be believed.

Earlier this week Italy’s La Stampa newspaper suggested Rome is having second thoughts over the proposed subsea pipeline, which has already received funding from the EU as a ‘Project of Common Interest’.

In December 2018, the four countries involved – Israel, Cyprus, Greece and Italy – signed a framework agreement to provide Europe with natural gas via the EastMed.

According to La Stampa, the definitive agreement was expected to be concluded by the end of March – but Italy now says it wants to put the brakes on the project.

Apparently under pressure from environmental activists, the Italian government has decided to order a new environmental impact assessment.

The publication cited a diplomat of one of the other three countries as saying: “The Italian government has not given us concrete reasons [for the pause].”

“Our impression is that there are electoral reasons behind this stop and reconsideration of the merits. But we don’t know yet if after the elections if something will be unblocked”.

Work on the pipeline was expected to begin this year and conclude in five years.

The project is opposed by Turkey, seeing its regional influence and role as an energy hub diminish and also by Egypt, which aims to sign an agreement with Nicosia to transfer the natural gas extracted off the island to its own shores.

Meanwhile, Lebanon was warning its Mediterranean neighbours that it would not allow the mooted pipeline to violate its maritime borders.

Reuters said Beirut has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel – which it regards as an enemy country – over a sea area of about 860 square kilometres extending along the edge of three of Lebanon’s southern energy blocks.

Lebanon’s foreign minister Gebran Bassi, said he has written to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy head Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of Cyprus, Greece and Italy to request that the pipeline does not infringe on Lebanon’s rights within what it claims as its exclusive economic zone.

In a copy of the letter sent to Greece’s foreign ministry seen by Reuters, Bassil said Lebanon would not allow its sovereignty to be breached, “especially when it comes to any eventual attempt from Israel to encroach on Lebanon’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction over its EEZ”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel within the next few days to help with its plan to export natural gas to Europe.

“In a few days, the leaders of Cyprus and Greece will come here, together with… Pompeo, to advance a gas pipeline from Israel to Europe via these countries,” Netanyahu said on his Twitter feed.

“The navy will also protect this pipeline.”

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