Building a gas pipeline across the Pyrenees mountains is ‘in Europe’s interest’ and a project that Spain will vigorously defend, despite opposition from the French president, Spain’s Energy Minister Teresa Ribera has said.
But French President Emmanuel Macron has said he is opposed to the France-Spain ‘Midcat’ gas pipeline project, arguing that capacity on two existing cross-Pyrenees gas pipelines was underutilised and that gas flows were going mainly in the direction of Spain.
With Russia withholding gas deliveries to most of Europe in reaction to sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, there has been a resurgence of interest in a link to bring in much-needed supplies from Spain to the rest of the continent.
Plans for such a pipeline, known as ‘MidCat’, emerged a decade ago but were dropped in 2019 over regulatory and funding issues.
But Spain is now pushing hard for the revival of the project with the full backing of Germany, which has now had Russian gas deliveries via a key pipeline shut off for the indefinite future. ALSO READ: Scholz confirms support for ‘MidCat’ gas pipeline in meeting with Sánchez.
With six terminals, Spain has the biggest infrastructure in Europe to accept liquefied natural gas brought in by ship.
But there is currently only a very small link between the Spanish and French natural gas networks, limiting the possibility for Spain to send supplies onward to central Europe.
The MidCat would boost that capacity, but France has shown little interest in the project.
‘There is no obvious need for it, there is no evidence of any need for it today nor in the future,’ Emmanuel Macron said on Monday after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
‘I don’t understand why everyone is getting all worked up about [this pipeline] and saying it would resolve the gas crisis: it’s not true,’ he told reporters.
‘I’m not convinced we need more gas interconnections, which would have a bigger impact on the environment and ecosystems.’
‘I do not understand why we would jump around like Pyrenees goats on this topic,’ he said, paraphrasing a famous expression by former president Charles De Gaulle.
His remarks did little to dampen Spain’s enthusiasm for the pipeline, with Energy Minister Ribera telling Onda Cero radio it was ‘in Europe’s interest’.
‘There will be a debate, I don’t think we can rule it out solely based on a declaration by one country,’ she said.
Although the MidCat pipeline would initially carry gas, Spain says it would ultimately be able to carry green hydrogen — a key energy source for the future.
Spain is hoping improved pipeline connectivity will open the way for it to become the European Union’s new hub for green hydrogen. ALSO READ: Spain plans to lead green hydrogen production with €1.5bn from recovery fund.
In his remarks, Macron raised ‘environmental concerns’ about the pipeline, ‘which are not without foundation’, he said.
‘All the experts are saying it’s wrong to say that a gas pipeline would be able to transport hydrogen in the future, that would have to involve a lot of extra heavy work,’ he said.
But Ribera said Macron ‘doesn’t like the idea of a project he sees as being in the past’, referring to the older MidCat plans.
‘In reality, what we’re saying is that if this third gas interconnection is built, it must be a pipeline that’s ready for the future,’ she said.
La Vanguardia newspaper didn’t mince its words about the French leader’s ‘unpleasant’ comments. ‘Macron does not like the closer friendship between Spain and Germany,’ it wrote.