The economic and social hardships of the past years of crisis, as well as the recent political changes in Greece have undoubtedly been under the spotlight in Europe and beyond. While the opinions regarding both the causes and solutions to the economic challenges faced by the country vary, one thing is certain: the publicity around the Greek crisis proved to have a strong impact on country’s image vis-à-vis the international business community.
Indeed, currently the perceived financial perplexities together with the political uncertainties – exacerbated by the speculations in the media – impair the investment climate in Greece; as profitability and, even feasibility, of entrepreneurial activities in the country are put in question. At the same time, the impact of the real challenges is never one-dimensional, as any crisis brings out the best in true leaders.
For Whom the Bell Tolls in Greece?
In response to the endless ‘perfect storm’ in Greece pictured externally, some decisive initiatives have been brought into life by the representatives of the newly established generation of Greek immigrants – experts with high professional qualifications working across the globe. The latter, aspiring to a better future, away from the ‘Crisis-Ridden Greece’ of the past seven years, strengthened the capacity of the active Greek Diaspora worldwide with ‘new blood’. This has given rise to a number of voluntary organisations, which were established to raise the awareness and share professionals’ views on growth dynamics and the potential of Greece, restoring the once lost ‘positive external testimony’ in support of the country.
Such testimony is in fact supported on daily basis through the personal professionalism and global mindset of the experts belonging to the Diaspora and working in an international environment. At the same time, it is these voluntary organisations that make the voices of the professionals sound louder and clearer, consolidating their efforts and taking them forward. One of such organisations is the Greek Energy Forum (GEF).
The GEF Vision
Founded in January 2013 in London, the GEF brings together Greek energy professionals, who hold positions at some of the biggest international companies in the industry. The competences and expertise of its members make the GEF indeed unique, practically as it covers the entire spectrum of the energy sector. The Forum already has numerous active members across the globe, while its interconnected network of professionals dwarfs those of many established networks.
Talking to its founding members, a team of vibrant and internationally-minded Greek professionals, one soon realises that the success of the GEF is based, to a large extent, on their ability to challenge the complex status quo day by day, making it an integral part of their work. No idea seems too big, and their values of inclusion and open dialogue, coupled with their dedication, have won the respect and support of many key stakeholders across in the industry. Currently, there are three core work streams of the GEF’s activities:
- providing networking opportunities for professionals united by their interest in the field of energy and the South East Mediterranean;
- organising meetings and events with the purpose of opening a dialogue between its members and key actors on the Region, as well as internationally recognised experts;
- developing, formulating and voicing out practical proposals with regards to the energy markets and policies in Greece, Cyprus, the East Mediterranean region and the EU.
Despite the fact that the Forum is relatively young, it has already implemented a number of significant initiatives in all three priority areas of work that it set to itself. To this end, four large scale international energy conferences, as well as a number of expert consultations and meetings were organised by the Forum in London, Athens and Brussels. At one of the events organised in Athens (April 2014), devoted to the liberalisation of Greek energy markets, the GEF welcomed the then Prime Minister Mr. Antonis Samaras as the honorary speaker, while the ex-Minister and ex-Deputy Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Change, participated at a number of conferences in Athens, Brussels and London. Notably, the latter featured the presentation of the new offshore blocks in Greece, which are subjects to the current bidding round for hydrocarbons exploration and production.
Apart from that, through the broad network of energy professionals that the GEF has developed, the Forum has facilitated a number of bilateral meetings between international oil companies and the relevant officials of the Greek Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Climate Change aimed at providing the former with comprehensive geological and commercial information.
Along with the strong focus on Greece, the thematic scope addressed by the GEF extends to the wider Eastern Mediterranean region and Europe. This way, in cooperation with the European Economic and Social Committee, the GEF ran an international conference in Brussels, addressing the role of the Eastern Mediterranean in EU’s energy diversification efforts and the energy security strategy. In the framework of this event, representatives of the national governments of Greece, Cyprus and Israel, as well as the EU institutions and industries discussed the status and perspectives of capitalizing on the recent discoveries of hydrocarbons in the region.
Simultaneously, the GEF is actively tabling proposals, as well as influencing and informing the public opinion on some topical energy issues. For instance, it contributed to the public consultation on the 2030 Framework on climate and energy (endorsed by the EU in October 2014), while the articles of the GEF members are regularly published, both in Greek and international media.
It is necessary to stress that the GEF is not an industry association, but a community of Greek professionals with specialist knowledge and experience in the field of energy. Therefore, the members of the Forum feel as the ambassadors of Greece on the international energy scene, whose mission is about taking voluntary actions to support and rebuild the trust in the positive image of Greece internationally.
At the same time, the GEF is supporting the development and growth of the national Greek energy markets with practical targeted recommendations, as well as through knowledge and best practice transfer to the country. These targets underpin the activities carried out by the GEF through its newly established brunches in Athens, London and Brussels.
Considering all the above, one may see that in the very heart of the GEF initiative lies the strong commitment of its members, both personal and professional, to act at the times when the need for a conscious and knowledgeable response to the unprecedented challenges faced by Greece is especially acute. Hence, the dedication of the GEF to implement its strategy nationally, regionally and internationally.
In order to allow the readers to learn more about the GEF’s philosophy, we have discussed the following questions with Dr. Angelos Gkanoutas-Leventis and Alexandos Lagakos, co-founders of the Greek Energy Forum.
What in your view makes the events organised by the GEF different from other ones run by think tanks, industry associations and consultancies operating in the field of energy?
Angelos: The GEF is primarily a professional organisation, which means that our members have rich experiences from different parts of the industry. This provides us with an extensive pool of know how derived from the people who have been in the forefront of the developments of our industry. Therefore, when we collectively express opinions or consultations, these are based on knowledge derived from experience and not on theory. Don’t get me wrong, these are still very valuable insights, which we are not seeking to replace, but we do believe that a dialogue has to take place, which is currently missing. I truly believe that this is our major differentiator.
Alex: In my mind, another key differentiator is the fact that all our events are set up in such a way that they are open to an international audience. All our events are strictly held in English and hence are attended by a vast number of non-Greek individuals. We consciously do this because our key objective is to boost the extroversy of the Greek energy sector by stirring the international – and not just the domestic – discussion about Greece and our broader neighborhood in the East Med.
The GEF indeed has proven its commitment to challenge the current status quo and freely talk out its opinion. What in your personal view have been the key ingredients of the success in raising the profile of the country internationally?
Angelos: I would say timing. Which I might add is proving to be the biggest ally but also enemy of the current developments in the region. On the one hand, the timing of the discoveries in the region was very well aligned with the rise of the view that the EU needed face the issue of supply dependency in hydrocarbons. On the other hand, the timing of the recent drop in the price of crude oil, is affecting a number of E&P companies and projects internationally, and offshore exploration such as that of the South Eastern Mediterranean is experiencing its effects.
Alex: Angelos is right on this one. Timing has been a key determinant for the attention we have managed to attract but not only because of the E&P story that is being developing in the region. We would definitely need to add to this the strong push on behalf of the EU to finally implement the 3rd Energy Package and establish a unified energy market across Europe, which fully complies with GEF’s principles. Regarding Greece and the Balkan region, the success of this initiative will be mainly based on the human factor. And please let me explain this further; the countries in the region need people with experience from the developed and well-functioning competitive markets to facilitate this transition; they need policy makers, regulators, network operators, traders, lawyers, system engineers, consultants etc. We aspire GEF to become a platform that can give free access to this essential knowledge and expertise to local governments and hence assist Southeastern Europe to change.
How do you contemplate the future of the GEF?
Angelos: The GEF is a very young organisation, and we have made sure that the team responsible for shaping it is populated by young and creative individuals, eager to make an impact and not afraid of biting a bit more than they can chew! We have also recently introduced the Steering Committee as an integral part of the GEF structure, which assists us in maintaining focus while enabling us to achieve any extravagant new ideas we come up with. Having seen these two groups working in conjunction, I doubt that there are any limits to the growth trajectory which we have in our minds. However, what I could share is that our interim target is to develop the GEF into a self-sustained Think Tank with international recognition.
Alex: Furthermore, we have recently found two GEF branch offices in Brussels and in Athens. These branches will allow us to expand the geographical reach of the GEF but also upgrade our relationship with key energy decision-makers sitting at the capitals of Europe and Greece respectively. At a later stage, we intend to invest more time and resources in establishing a stronger presence within the Balkan region and creating an efficient communication channel with industry leaders and governments in our broader neighbourhood.
What are the prerequisites for an energy professional to become member of the GEF?
Angelos: In its core, the Forum is a network of experts deriving from the wider energy and hydrocarbons industry who have an interest in the Southeastern Mediterranean region. To this extent, one can say that the only essential pre-requisite for someone becoming a member, is that he or she has to be a professional, directly or indirectly related to this industry. However, exceptions to this rule exist as we allow students to also join our group. Even though ethnicity might be thought to be a restrictive factor for us.
Alex: And of course be enthusiastic about working towards making citizens and governments of SE Med more aware of all the energy opportunities out there! Just keep in mind that as GEF members we might be energy professionals but above all we remain volunteers helping to shape the future of our broader neighbourhood.
This article is part of the knowledge partnership between European Energy Review and the Greek Energy Forum a group of energy professionals sharing common interest in the broader energy industry in Greece and South-eastern Europe.