EU continues to support France-Spain gas link, despite setback

Project promoters can continue to receive EU funding, in particular to perform further assessments, the European Commission said. [Photo: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid / Flickr]

The gas interconnector between France and Spain remains a project of common European interest eligible for EU funding, the European Commission has said, despite a decision by French and Spanish regulators who rejected a key section of the planned pipeline.

“The Commission has continuously supported the better integration of the Iberian Peninsula in the EU internal energy market, including through new electricity and gas interconnections,” said Anna-Kaisa Itkonen, the EU spokesperson in charge of climate action and energy.

And the same logic applies to the planned Midi-Catalonia (MidCat) gas pipeline project linking France and Spain, according to the EU executive.

Permission for the central portion of MidCat, the South Transit Eastern Pyrenees (STEP), was refused on grounds of lack of necessity and high cost, the French and Spanish energy regulators said on Tuesday (22 January).

The decision called into question the long-term viability of MidCat and fuelled calls for the gas pipeline project to be withdrawn from a European list of priority energy infrastructure projects eligible for EU funding, known as the Projects of Common Interest (PCI).

Green activists who campaigned against the pipeline have called the project “useless”, saying it was “bad for taxpayers, consumers, local people, and the climate”.

The Spanish and French regulators appeared to back this view, saying they had taken their decision in the context of European energy policy objectives, “with special regard to the European strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

Regulators reject key section of planned France-Spain gas pipeline

The energy regulators of Spain and France have rejected an investment request to build the central section of the planned Midi-Catalonia (MidCat) gas pipeline linking the two countries, in a move that could spell the end of the entire project, green activists said.

Project of common European interest

But the European Commission said it continues to support MidCat, despite the negative decision by the French and Spanish regulators.

“The STEP project remains a project of common interest and can continue benefitting from EU support, in particular for further assessments,” Itkonen told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

French and Spanish regulators consider the project “not yet mature and recommend that the project promoters perform further assessments,” Itkonen said, suggesting the decision by national regulators could still be reversed. “It is now for the project promoters to assess the regulators’ decision in detail and decide on the next steps,” she added.

Midcat is supported by European Union Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete, a Spanish national.

The EU executive is currently preparing the selection procedure for the 4th version of the PCI list, which is expected to be published in October 2019. The deadline for submitting candidate gas projects was 16 January 2019.

EURACTIV understands that the STEP project has been submitted as a candidate for PCI and will be assessed alongside other candidate projects.

However, the Commission’s support for MidCat seems to have weakened. An independent cost-benefit study of the STEP project, done by consultancy firm Pöyry for the EU executive, found the project would bring only limited value.

Study for EU questions France-Spain gas pipe plan

A report prepared for the European Commission has questioned the economic viability of plans to build a gas pipeline connecting Spain and France, designed in part to help reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian piped gas, five sources told Reuters.

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