[Indicative templates] Athens Digest 10.11.2022

-PM announces expanded natural gas exploration off west coast

-Greece to “double down” on green transition

-Pagoulatos: U.S. midterms a relief for Democrats, and Athens

-Unions hold strikes over cost of living crisis

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In a surprise announcement, the prime minister says U.S. energy giant ExxonMobil will lead a natural gas exploration project off the southern Peloponnese and the island of Crete. “We must determine what our ability is to produce natural gas,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview with Antenna television. “This would help provide energy security, not only for our country but also for Europe.” Greek authorities have issued a maritime notice, or Navtex, for the survey to start in the area immediately, with the Gibraltar-flagged research vessel, the Sanco Swift, already in the region. According to an accelerated timeline, announced by the Hydrocarbons and Energy Resources Management Company, offshore gas production in the sectors off the western coast of Greece could start as early as 2026. The PM also announced that a tender to privatise the port of Alexandroupolis, in northeastern Greece, had been cancelled, noting that the facility would remain under state ownership due to its “strategic, geopolitical and energy-related significance for the country.”

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations climate conference, the prime minister renewed a promise to “double down” on the transition to green energy in Greece, arguing that it would ultimately be cheaper and safer for the country. In an interview with Bloomberg television, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he was “reasonably optimistic” that countries would take their commitments seriously in response to the gravity of the situation. “Difficult choices have to be made,” he said. “At the same time, we know that we need to double down on the green transition … We understand that focusing on renewables is cheaper, but also geopolitically safer and it contributes towards reducing our emissions.”

The disappointing result for the Republicans in the U.S. midterm elections will come as a relief not only for the Biden administration, but also for Greece, George Pagoulatos, professor of European politics and economy and director general at Eliamep, has argued in a comment to the Athens Digest. “The Republican triumph did not happen,” Pagoulatos wrote. And he added: “This is a relief for the Democrats and a bad result for Trump, who was planning to credit himself for a red wave. Results are viewed positively in Greece. Mehmet Oz, a pro-Erdogan Turkish-American and the Republican candidate in Pennsylvania for the Senate, was defeated by John Fetterman, who is close to the Greek-American community. A number of prominent Greek-Americans were re-elected ‒ Nicole Malliotakis, Gus Bilirakis, John Sarbanes, Chris Pappas ‒ and Robert Menendez Jr, son of Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and Greece’s most prominent Congressional friend, was elected to the House. Their support will be vital as Greece counts on the U.S. Congress regarding arms provisions to Turkey and other important foreign policy issues.”

Unions demanding additional government support to face the cost of living crisis organised a 24 hour general strike yesterday that disrupted services across the country. Ferry services to the Greek islands were halted and flights were disrupted, while public transport services in the capital and elsewhere were also affected. Workers joined two separate protests in central Athens that were briefly marred by violence when a small group of youths attacked police outside parliament. The General Confederation of Greek Labour, or GSEE, Greece’s largest trade union which organised the strikes, is seeking additional support to lower electricity bills and broad VAT cuts on basic goods.

On our Radar: Digital Success But More Needed
Greece has made a significant improvement in providing digital services to its citizens, but a new survey suggests that regional government is still lagging in many parts of the country. The Gov.gr platform, launched in 2020, now offers 1,476 services in 11 categories and is considered a major success for the government. A survey by the Regional Policy Monitor together with the Hellenic Foundation of European and Foreign Policy (Eliamep) and the Aegean University exposed gaps elsewhere: The City of Athens ranks first in digital services but the average number of services in the 332 municipalities nationwide remains in the single digits.  Athens provides the highest number of digital services, at 166, 39.8 percent of them fully automated. In total, 552 services are being provided via the official websites of Greek municipalities. But the level of digitization of services at those municipalities through their websites is measured at 5.95 percent.

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