The EastMed Gas Forum (EMGF), the founding charter of which was signed by forum members on 22 September, “has succeeded in making history and will contribute to establishing peace,” Egypt's Minister of Petroleum Tarek Al-Molla said on Tuesday.
In an online ceremony Minister of Petroleum Tarek Al-Molla and representatives from the other member states - Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – digitally signed the charter.
Turning the forum into an international governmental organisation will bolster cooperation and dialogue over natural gas Al-Molla said in a statement issued after the ceremony.
“The development of the EMGF as an organisationis positive for all member states aspiring to make optimum use of their natural resources,” said Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.
In the last decade major gas deposits have been found in the east Mediterranean. The United States Geological Survey estimates that the Nile Delta has an extraction potential of more than 220 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and the Levant Basin over 120 trillion cubic feet.
The goal of the forum is to establish “a shared vision and systematic and regulated dialogue over natural gas policies… to maximise the region’s resources,” said the joint statement issued after Tuesday’s ceremony. The new organisation also aims to lower infrastructure costs and secure a competitive price for gas from the region.
The organisation aims to “create a regional gas market that serves the interests of its members by ensuring supply and demand, optimising resource development, rationalising the cost of infrastructure, offering competitive prices and improving trade relations,”said a statement issued by Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum in January when forum members first approved the transformation of the grouping into a regional organisation to be based in Cairo.
Any state in the Eastern Mediterranean can apply for membership of the EMGF. Other states and regional and international organizations can join as observers.
France and the US both expressed a wish to join earlier this year, the first as a member and the second as an observer.
Egypt, Greece and Cyprus first posited a forum to include states that produce and import gas, and transit countries in the East Mediterranean area, in October 2018. The EMGF was officially founded in January 2019, when the seven founding members agreed to form a committee to elevate the forum to the level of an international organisation.
Guaranteeing the optimum use of gas in the region had long been an Egyptian goal, to which end Cairo was keen to boost its relations with Greece and with Cyprus, exchanging numerous high-level visits.
Last week’s visit to Greece by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri served to further strengthen bilateral relations, as well as boost to trilateral cooperation with Cyprus. During his trip Shoukri met with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
In a press conference following his meeting with Dendias, Shoukri said his visit reflected the importance Egypt accords to its ties with Athens. Shoukri also underlined the Egyptian government’s keenness to boost Greek investment in Egypt, including in the tourism sector, according to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Hafez.
Shoukri’s visit took place against a backdrop of escalating tensions between Turkey and Greece and Cyprus over maritime claims, and a month after the signing of a maritime border demarcation agreement which Shoukri described as reflecting the strong ties between Cairo and Athens.
The demarcation agreement between Egypt and Greece established an exclusive joint economic zone and was described at the time as “a turning point in the bilateral relations between the two countries. It was widely welcomed in the region as evidence of Cairo and Athens’s determination to promote stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The border demarcation agreement also impeded Turkish attempts to interfere in the region,” says Hassan.
The growth in cooperation between Egypt, Greece and Cyprus dates back to the meeting between the three countries’ foreign ministers on the margins of the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assemblies. Seven summit meetings have since taken place, the first in Cairo in 2014. It was in the sixth summit in Crete in 2018 that the three countries decided to found the EMGF.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 24 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly