European solidarity: the MidCat gas pipeline project crystallizes the difficulties in moving from words to deeds

Energy interconnections are more than crucial in these times of “European solidarity” forced by the energy crisis. One project illustrates the difficulties: the MidCat gas pipeline between Spain and France, which puts the biggest economic powers on the continent back to back.

The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, however, hammered it home 11 times during her expected State of the Union speech to MEPs on Wednesday (September 14): “solidarity” between countries of the EU is essential, both for the peoples of the Union and for the salvation of the Ukrainians.

And faced with the insecurity that the continent is going through, the first form of solidarity is energy. Quite a symbol when it comes to overcoming the difficulty of moving from words to deeds, as illustrated by the tensions over the resumption of the MidCat gas interconnection project between Spain and France, stalled since 2019.

On September 5, the President of the French Republic told the press that “there is no evidence of need” to revive this project. According to him, the current situation did not require a call for air in gas exchanges between France and Spain, insofar as the two existing gas pipelines were only used at 53% of their capacity.

Therefore, and according to Emmanuel Macron, what interest for European solidarity in involving the Pyrenean region in heavy work for its environmental health if the effects do not respond to the urgency of the current energy crisis?

According to some experts, reality proves Emmanuel Macron right, if only because since the sketch of the project 22 years ago, its scale has shrunk, before constituting only a minor interconnection between two nearby cities. regasification terminals.

Furthermore, Europe is importing more and more liquefied natural gas to counter the decline in imports via Russian gas pipelines and is developing 10 additional LNG terminal projects to this end, including five in Germany.

German hypocrisy

However, from August 11, Chancellor Olaf Scholz chanted that the project was “dramatically” lacking in Europe. But at the same time, the country confirms the closure of its last nuclear power plants, even though the emergency would require their maintenance.

This hypocrisy annoyed decision makers across Europe, to the point that Take Aanstoot of Sweden’s Green Party, said on Twitter that “if Germany does not [prenait] no responsibility for its energy security, [il] will propose to [son] government to cut the cable [électrique] of the Baltic ».

Therefore, the French president said he was not convinced of the arguments of the German head of government, but quick to dialogue with its European partners if they demonstrate the usefulness of the MidCat project.

Spain and France start talks

Following these positions, the Spanish Energy Ministers, Teresa Ribera, and France, Agnès Pannier-Runacher, took advantage of the Extraordinary Council of European Energy Ministers held last Friday (9 September) to discuss the creation a group of experts who would be responsible for determining the usefulness of the project for the winter of 2023-2024.

Before that, Teresa Ribera repeated many times that this project could materialize in less than a year, urging France to “thinking about how to help others” at a maintenance on Spanish radio Onda Cero. For his part, the Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has been increasing discussions with the German Chancellor for several weeks.

Moreover, if ever MidCat did not succeed in re-emerging, the Spaniards and Germans have a plan B: divert France by a new sub-Mediterranean gas pipeline towards Italy, from Barcelona to Livorno.

In addition, the defenders of the project have tried to appeal to the European authorities to move the file forward and finance the necessary two billion euros, but the European Commission has kicked in touch.

Asked about this, Tim McPhie, the Commission’s energy and climate spokesperson, recalled at a press conference that the project was no longer considered a European project of common interest (PCI), and that even if he was again “fossil fuel infrastructure [n’avait] no longer entitled to funding, but hydrogen yes”.

Hydrogen Trojan

Exactly. According to the Spanish authorities, the MidCat project is not just a gas project, since it is also a “Trojan horse” for the European Union’s hydrogen strategy. “And it’s not something we made up, but rather what the RepowerEU plan says”defended the CEO of Enagás, Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri, during the 7th European Energy Forum organized by the Spanish media El Economista.

Without even addressing the subject of hydrogen, Spain has every interest in motivating the resumption of this project. With his six terminals, the country has a liquefied natural gas import capacity 12 times greater than its export capacity, which could be halved by the MidCat project.

The problem is much the same for Portugal which, through the voice of its Prime Minister, gives the project a character ” essential “.

Spain therefore seeks to make its investments profitable and, to do so, salivates its privileged relationship with the Maghreb authorities, major providers of resources for Europe.

On the German side, this project stems from the vigor of their diplomacy, pretending that, despite their internal strategy, if the first economy of the EU risks shortage, all of Europe could collapse.

France, caught in a vice, is trying to resist the easy way out, wondering about the viability of such a project in the long term, while Europe wants to get out of fossil fuels.

This project therefore reflects the divisions that occur when it comes to moving from words to acts of solidarity. Addressing a stubborn France, an opportunistic Spain and a proud Germany, the President of the European People’s Party (right-wing – EPP), Manfred Weber, responded at the microphone of EURACTIV, at the end of the speech on the state of the Union, that “we need leadership now”.

Clearly, neighborhood quarrels should not make us forget that in times of crisis, the symbolism of the measures counts just as much as their pragmatism.

European solidarity: the MidCat gas pipeline project crystallizes the difficulties in moving from words to deeds