France, Spain ditch Germany's sought-after MIDCAT pipeline project
Allies in a pickle: France and Spain just buried German hopes of a long-sought gas pipeline.
French President Emmanuel Macron, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, and Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced on Thursday that they had scrapped a pipeline project that was fervently supported by Germany.
They instead announced that they agreed to build a natural gas pipeline connecting the Iberian peninsula to the rest of Europe, an initiative that left many questioning.
Ahead of a meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, all three leaders issued a joint statement saying "they decided to abandon the MidCat project and instead create, as a matter of priority, a Green Energy Corridor connecting Portugal, Spain, and France with the EU's energy network."
The MIDCAT project emerged a decade ago and called for the creation of an overland gas pipeline that would connect Spain to France and then Germany. But it was abandoned in 2019 over several regulatory and funding issues and the fact that it was contested in France for a very long time.
The new project involves the building of an underwater pipeline called BarMar that would stretch from Barcelona in Spain to Marseille in France.
The pipeline will initially start with deliveries of gas, but will then move to hydrogen after "a transition period needed by the European energy market."
The statement did not specify any costs or timeline related to the pipeline's construction.
The announcement was made following a backdrop of disputes between Germany and France as Germany has been pushing for the MidCat project to alleviate the effects of its current energy crisis.
The MidCat would have allowed Germany to get access to gas supplies from Spain and Portugal, which come in large part from Algeria.
Read more: Spain, France, and Portugal conclude deal over new gas route
Despite that Spain possesses six liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities for refining gas that arrives by sea from the Iberian peninsula, which would facilitate the EU to boost its imports, it has only two low-capacity pipelines reaching France's gas hub that connects to the rest of the continent.
Macron has claimed that the construction of MidCat was not viable considering that the EU is pushing for a greener future and that France can produce the hydrogen Germany requires. As such, the BarMar pipeline agreement, which is set to receive financing from the EU, was a sign of "European solidarity" that supported "our climate and energy transition strategy."
Macron said he plans to visit Spain in December to "finalize" the project.
On his part, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez called the abandonment of MidCat and the plan for BarMar a "magnificent decision" - despite that he had backed Germany's decision when the MidCat offer was still on the table.
According to Gonzalo Escribano, an energy expert at Spain's Elcano Royal Institute, the BarMar pipeline will not provide any short-term solution to the energy crisis the EU currently faces.
The government of Spain "can be pretty satisfied" given that it "did not really want a new gas pipeline but didn't want to snub Germany" too.
"France, obviously, is keeping its position and this way gets rid of a bit of the pressure exerted by Germany," he said.
In response to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's statements about energy prices, Macron warned Germany against “isolating itself” as EU leaders round on Scholz for refusing to agree to Brussel's energy plan.
"I don't think it's good for Germany or for Europe if it isolates itself," he said on his arrival to Brussels for the EU council meeting.
A big battle is expected at #EUCO over the @EU_Commission’s proposal to introduce a price cap on gas, which is essentially a new #sanction that would threaten Europe’s #EnergySecurity & increase prices. We must defend 🇭🇺Hungary’s national interests & stand our ground in Brussels! pic.twitter.com/o7d37Og9nv— Balázs Orbán (@BalazsOrban_HU) October 20, 2022