EU chief calls Spain-France gas connections ‘critical’

EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called Friday for resuming work on a new gas pipeline linking Spain and France, calling it a critical element to reduce dependence upon Russian energy.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech at the Cercle d'Economia 2022 annual meeting in Barcelona, on May 6, 2022. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

“Now all of Europe agrees that we must cut our dependency on Russian fossil fuels,” Von der Leyen said during an appearance in Barcelona alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Last week, Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria as the Kremlin reacted to tightening EU sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

“It is crucial for our climate goals and to end the Kremlin’s blackmail,” she added.

Von der Leyen pointed to the recently agreed plan by the bloc’s 27 member states called REPowerEU that aims to reinforce energy independence and reduce dependence on Russian gas.

Under that plan “we will privilege cross-border projects, for example the critical connection between Portugal, Spain and France,” she said.

Spain currently has six liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that could help the EU boost imports, but the problem is there are currently only two, low-capacity, links to France’s gas network, which has connections to countries
further east.

A project called Midcat to link Portugal, Spain and France was launched in 2013, but it drew opposition from environmental groups and work was halted in 2019 when financing fell through.

Von der Leyen said the project has geopolitical importance and needs to be resumed now so “together we can set ourselves free from Russian threats”.

The Spanish government is also favourable about resurrecting the pipeline project. However, it doesn’t want to contribute to the estimated 440 million euros in financing needed as the project doesn’t directly benefit Spain.


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Spain starts sending gas to Morocco after Algeria spat

Spain has started sending natural gas supplies to Morocco through the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline (GME) to ensure its energy security following a supply crisis with Algeria.

Spain starts sending gas to Morocco after Algeria spat

“The first shipment via the Maghreb gas pipeline took place (on Tuesday) involving LNG (liquefied natural gas) which Morocco bought on the international markets and unloaded at a Spanish regasification plant,” a source at Spain’s ecological transition ministry told AFP.

In February, Spain said it would help Morocco address a gas supply shortage by letting it ship LNG to a Spanish regasification plant which could then be transferred to Morocco via the GME pipeline.

The GME pipeline, which crosses Morocco, had previously been used by Algeria to transport gas to Spain.

But in October, following a diplomatic spat, Algiers refused to renew a 25-year deal with Rabat to use the pipeline.   

Morocco had been receiving around a billion cubic metres of gas per year as transit fees, covering around 97 percent of its needs, so Algeria’s move directly impacted on Rabat’s energy supplies.

Algiers, which in the first quarter supplied about 25 percent of Spain’s gas imports, had in April warned Madrid not to re-export any of its supplies to Morocco, warning it could endanger its own contract with Algeria.

“A certification scheme guarantees that this gas is not of Algerian origin,” the Spanish ministry source said.

Spain’s Enagas, which operates four LNG terminals and the national gas grid, “will check the origin of the methane tanker carrying the gas” acquired by Morocco “and after unloading will issue a certificate”, ensuring that no other gas is exported, the source said.

Tensions peaked between the North African neighbours last year following Morocco’s renewal of diplomatic ties with Israel and Washington’s recognition of Rabat’s sovereignty over disputed Western Sahara.

Diplomatic ties have also nose-dived between Spain and Algeria after Madrid reversed its decades-long stance of neutrality on Western Sahara, agreeing to back Morocco’s autonomy plan for the disputed region to end a year-long diplomatic spat.

Spain’s move, widely seen as a victory for Morocco, infuriated Algeria, which backs the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s independence movement.