Tuesday, 25 February 2020

EU’s last nickel smelter heads for the gallows, or an afterlife

This article was published by Al Jazeera International

A worker injects pure oxygen into furnace number one to coax out molten nickel-iron at a temperature of 1,300 degrees Celsius

LARYMNA, Greece - The final countdown has begun for Larco, the European Union’s only remaining nickel smelter, and its 1,260 workers and their families. The Greek state can no longer afford to finance it and has given it a final dowry of 35mn euros and a year to find an investor.

“If during this period three quarters of Larco’s assets haven’t been sold, the company must file for bankruptcy,” finance minister Christos Staikouras told parliament.

Larco sits at the centre of a $170mn economy. In addition to its miners, smelters and office workers, more than 22,000 suppliers and contractors are dependent on it, so shuttering it would entail a high political cost.

But the eight month-old New Democracy government has its sights fixed on a new age of smaller government, lower taxes, renewable energy and competitive, high-tech services, and appears impatient to close the book on an attempt at heavy industry that began in the 1950s and was largely bankrupt thirty years later.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Is the US heading to the front lines of European defence?

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
A Greek Chinook helicopter ferries journalists to joint US-Greek wargames on February 19

In contrast to its ongoing redeployment of forces in the Middle East, the US appears to be surging to the fore of European defence.

The US-led annual Defender Europe exercise will involve 20,000 US troops - more than those of all its NATO allies put together, and more than at any time in the past quarter-century.

“The overarching goal of the event is to demonstrate the ability of the US to lift and shift a division-size force over long distances,” said Tod D. Wolters, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe earlier this month. “The planning in itself is deterrence,” he said.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Greece says it’s speeding up asylum cases and returns

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece says it has begun to enforce fast track procedures for new asylum-applicants and is stepping up deportations to Turkey, but aid organisations voice concerns that applicants’ rights are being  trampled upon.

Greece deported 53 asylum-seekers in January, police tell Al Jazeera, a significant increase on last year’s monthly average of 16, but only slightly higher than the monthly average of 45 since the EU-Turkey Statement went into effect in April 2016. Turkey and the European Union are obliged to readmit irregular migrants from each other under that agreement.

“The rules have changed. We’re no longer open to people who don’t have a refugee profile,” said migration minister Notis Mitarakis on Friday as he headed for the island of Chios, his constituency and one of five eastern Aegean islands bearing the brunt of new arrivals.

“We’re now taking at least first instance [asylum] decisions within four weeks,” he said.

En route to Berlin, Haftar holds talks with top Greek officials

This article was published by Al Jazeera International

ATHENS, Greece- Smarting from its exclusion in Libyan peace talks, Greece scored a diplomatic win on Friday when Libyan warlord Halifa Haftar paid an unexpected visit to Athens, on his way to the UN-sponsored talks in Berlin.

Greece asked to be included in the Berlin Process, as the talks are called, saying it has vital interests at stake.

The Council of Ministers in Tripoli signed a maritime jurisdiction agreement with Turkey last year that claims waters Greece also sees as part of its own jurisdiction.

Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), based in Benghazi, is at war with the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al Sarraj, based in Tripoli.

Greek foreign minister Nikos Dendias said Haftar agreed that a ceasefire agreement had to recognise “the invalidity of the illegal memoranda between Turkey and the Sarraj government.” The government says Haftar has committed to negotiating a new maritime deal with Greece.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Demographic decline in Greece

In a new law voted yesterday, Greece will pay 2000 euros to the parents of every newborn to reverse depopulation, an economic and national security issue. In 2008-18, births declined from 118,302 to 86,440. Deaths increased from 107,979 to 120,297. The pop deficit last year was 33,857.

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Why Greece is key to US plans to sell more natural gas to Europe

An abridged version of this article was published by Al Jazeera International

ATHENS, Greece - Two geostrategic energy alliances are crossing swords over southeast Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Between them, they plan billions of dollars’ worth of competing infrastructure projects. The ones that succeed will create the regional energy map of the future, and 2020 is shaping up to be a pivotal year in deciding their fate.

On one end of the piste stands the Russian-Turkish energy alliance, which seeks to boost Russia’s natural gas exports through new pipelines, and Turkey’s status as an energy transit hub to Europe. On the other end stands the rapidly advancing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) industry and its new champions, the Unites States, Israel, Egypt, Cyprus and Greece.

Both alliances are vying to sell natural gas to the European market, which has undertaken the world’s most ambitious decarbonisation programme. Over the next decade, Europe is forecast to bridge its transition from coal to renewable energy by importing increasing amounts of natural gas.

Greece, Israel, Cyprus, move forward to build East Med pipeline

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

ATHENS, Greece - The governments of Greece, Israel and Cyprus on Thursday signed an agreement to build a pipeline that could supply Europe with four percent of its annual gas needs by the middle of the decade.

“Today we did not simply sign a beneficial agreement. We sealed our resolve for a strategic connection between our countries in a region that now more than ever needs growth and security,” said Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The agreement is a statement of political will, but it is now up to the construction consortium, led by the Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA) and Italy’s Edison, to find the roughly 6bn euros ($6.7bn) the pipeline is estimated to cost.