ATHENS – US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Erika Olson, who is overseeing policy for Southern Europe and the Caucasus, gave an interview to Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-MPA) during her visit to Athens and Thessaloniki earlier this week.
Underlining that the bilateral relationship between Greece and the US is currently “better than it ever has been,” Olson said that she sees “opportunities for us to continue to grow and expand on that good work.”
On the significance of the northern Greek port city of Alexandroupolis, the American official said that it “plays a key role in building regional stability, but also in strengthening European energy and climate security,” adding that “the frequent rotations of US and NATO personnel highlight the accelerating momentum of our military and security relationship which is anchored in our Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement (MDCA), which we updated last Fall with the visit of [Greek] Foreign Minister [Nikos] Dendias.”
With the development of the Floating Storage Regasification Unit (FSRU) in the area of Alexandroupolis, especially after the entry of Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator (DESFA) in Gastrade’s share capital with a share of 20%, Olson pointed out that it “would be [yet] another mechanism for bringing diversified natural gas and LNG coming into the country, which is important not only for Greece but also for the entire Balkans region as another source of energy flow.”
“When we talk about energy, as you know the US accounts for more than 50% of Greece’s LNG imports,” she stressed, adding that “this is a very important part of our relationship, particularly as it shows Greece’s strategy to diversify sources, and as we look forward to increasing renewables, innovation in the energy sector.” Olson noted that while in Athens and Thessaloniki she had the opportunity to meet government officials working on energy, as well as in leading companies. “I think there is a great opportunity. Greece has the wind, it has the sun, it has everything that it needs to amplify renewable resources and push them into the European grid,” she highlighted.
Concerning the tender for the sale of the majority shares stock of Alexandroupolis Port Authority S.A., she commented that “we are also really excited to see several US companies very interested in the privatization of the port at Alexandroupoli and we hope that [it] will lead to even more US investments in the region.”
Commenting on opportunities for bilateral cooperation in various other energy projects, in light of the process of phasing out lignite dependency for power production in Greece’s region of western Macedonia, and plans for the so-called Green Transition, she said “those projects are very interesting, and provide an opportunity not just for American companies to invest, but for American companies and Greek companies to work together, to innovate and ‘green’ the energy in that region.” This also creates more synergies for the US and Greece to work together not just bilaterally, but also on a regional context, she explained.
On Thursday in Thessaloniki, Olson met with Deputy Interior Minister for Macedonia & Thrace Stavros Kalafatis and also with the city’s mayor Konstantinos Zervas. She also visited the emblematic monument of the Rotunda, the Jewish Museum, and Pfizer’s World Center for Digital Transformation & Digital Skills.
“My impression of Thessaloniki is that it’s a city full of energy and full of potential,” she exclaimed, and that “we are so honored to see so many US companies getting involved in the economy in Thessaloniki, and pushing development particularly in hi-tech, green energy, and education.”
She also referred to investments in Thessaloniki by companies such as Cisco, Deloitte, Pfizer, who she said have also invested throughout Greece, as “we have seen consistent new investments coming in from American companies, and we also have AWS, Microsoft, Applied Materials, and then in the energy sector there is even more.”
“We are looking for opportunities to do more together, and I think in Thessaloniki and in Northern Greece there are a lot of different places we can deepen that relationship,” noted Olson, who also expressed her certainty that Thessaloniki can attract even more American companies. Mentioning meetings she had with top business leaders and educators in Thessaloniki, Olson underlined that “one of the things we have talked about is the human capital that it’s here.” Referring to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki as the largest university in Greece and the Balkans, Olson said that the students there “can impact innovation and really be drivers for the economy.”
Finally, Olson mentioned US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, who, she said, often speaks of Greek- American bilateral relations as being “at an unprecedented [high] level.” In this context, Olson noted, more opportunities “exist in the months ahead (e.g., Delphi Forum or Capital Link in New York) to continue to develop that relationship, not just government-to-government, but also people-to-people and also within our economies.”