France keeps blocking MidCat gas interconnection with Spain

Spanish Environment Minister Teresa Ribera told Spanish television (TVE) on 12 August that work on the MidCat project on the Spanish side could be completed in "eight to nine months". [Michal Bednarek / Shutterstock]

Spain, Portugal and Germany have revived talks on the MidCat gas pipeline project linking the Iberian Peninsula with France, but Paris remains reluctant, calling the project’s future into question.

Read the original French article here.

Interest in the MidCat gas pipeline project linking Spain and France through the Pyrenees has been revived on the back of the gas crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

French and Spanish regulators denied a permit to build the pipeline in 2019 because of lack of necessity and high cost, but Berlin and Lisbon are now pushing to reconsider.

The gas interconnector between France and Spain remains a project of common European interest eligible for EU funding, the European Commission said at the time even though it has since been dropped from the list over environmental concerns.

On 11 August, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he regretted that the project was abandoned, saying the additional capacity was “dramatically” lacking in Europe during this crisis.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa called the project “a priority” for the continent and urged France to make its position clear on the matter.

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France keeping quiet

Since then, the French government has not said much. In June, the ecology ministry told EURACTIV France that it had “no comment” to make on the matter since the issue was brought to the forefront following the outbreak of war in Ukraine.

In July, EURACTIV asked the ministry again ahead of a meeting of EU energy ministers but was told the project is “not viable”.

Madrid sees it a bit differently, though. Environment Minister Teresa Ribera told Spanish television (TVE) on 12 August that work on the MidCat project on the Spanish side could be completed in “eight to nine months”.

To combat the Europe-wide gas shortage, Ribera proposes, at the very least, to prepare for the addition of an extra compressor on the two small gas pipelines that currently link Spain to France.

Construction should only take “two or three months” and could quickly supply “2 to 2.5%” of European gas consumption – an estimate corroborated by S&P Global in comments for La Tribune.

On the same day, however, the French energy transition ministry reiterated to Ara what it had said in July: that the project is not worthwhile and would take years to become operational.

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Spain’s energy Minister, Teresa Ribera, assured that “it is very difficult to make progress” with France on the construction of a gas pipeline that will allow Spain to export its stored gas to the rest of Europe.

A project that would mainly benefit Germany

Thierry Bros, a Professor at Science Po Paris and a contributor to Natural Gas World, says the pipeline would be pointless from an energy security perspective because it would connect the Catalonian city of Figueres with the commune of Barbaira in Occitania – two areas already close to other gas terminals.

“What is the point of a pipeline that links two regasification terminals?” he told EURACTIV France. For him, the push to revive the pipeline is motivated more by “political correctness” than energy security.

That is not the view of Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who said the project would “relieve congestion in the ports of northern Europe” by allowing the EU to benefit from a logistics platform located south of Lisbon.

However, Bros says the project would mainly benefit Germany and that there is no reason for the French and Spanish to pay for it.

“We [Europeans] are not vassals of Berlin,” Bros said.

According to the professor, Scholz and the successive governments of former Chancellor Angela Merkel are the only ones to blame for the current energy crisis in Germany, partly due to their closure of nuclear plants.

A solution for hydrogen?

Still, Spain remains adamant about the MidCat project, saying it could help transport hydrogen in the future.

Bros dismisses the hydrogen argument, saying the technology is still in its infancy and will not mature on time to help Europe face the current energy crisis.

In an interview with broadcaster LCI on Thursday, he derided current talks on developing hydrogen partnerships between Germany and Canada.

Bros prefers the “pragmatism” French President Emmanuel Macron, who is currently on a “friendship” visit to Algeria to likely discuss reinforcing gas partnerships with the country.

Other EU countries will closely watch Macron’s trip to Algeria. Germany, in particular, would welcome any additional gas supplies.

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[Edited by Frédéric Simon/Alice Taylor]

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