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France could 'examine' gas link from Spain to Germany

August 30, 2022

France says it is open to reviving a gas pipeline project that could link Spain and Germany. Berlin and Madrid are both keen to pursue the project, which could help to bridge Central Europe's energy gap.

https://p.dw.com/p/4GF9y
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz
Spain's Pedro Sanchez and Germany's Olaf Scholz say the pipeline could boost gas supplies Image: Michele Tantussi/REUTERS

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday said Paris would examine the possibility of reviving a pipeline project if it were given more details.  

The comments came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met in Berlin to call for a new pipeline across the Pyrenees.

Such a measure could open new energy sources to Central and Northern Europe, but Paris has so far been cautious about it.

What are different governments saying?

Le Maire signaled that France was open to looking at the project, but that it needs more details. 

"Spain and Germany are two close partners of France; if they make a proposal, we will examine it," Le Maire said in Paris.

France said earlier this month that new floating Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals in northern and eastern Europe, especially Germany, would be a quicker and cheaper option than a new pipeline.

Scholz said in Berlin that the "current crisis" had made clear the importance of European cooperation on energy.

Sanchez told a joint news conference that Spain and Portugal — which could also be connected via the grid — were "ready to do everything possible to help the countries that currently suffer the most from dependence on Russian gas and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's energy blackmail."

Madrid has long been pushing to revive the pipeline project. However, Spain has also said repeatedly that the project is of European importance and that it should be funded by Brussels.

German government: Energy saving strategy

In recent weeks, Spain and Germany's stance has become a lot closer, with Scholz saying a pipeline running through Portugal, Spain, and France to Central Europe was "conspicuously absent." 

What are the arguments for and against?

Russia has, in the past, supplied about 40% of Europe's natural gas, mostly by pipeline. However, since Moscow invaded Ukraine, it has slashed flows to Germany, and completely cut supply to several European countries such as Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, and Poland.  

Both Spain and Portugal have a large capacity to import gas through a total of seven LNG terminals, and via two pipelines to gas supplier Algeria.

A link to France could make those energy sources available to Germany and other countries in Central Europe.

The Midcat pipeline could serve that purpose. It already runs part of the way from Barcelona to a connecting point with the French gas grid in southern France.

However, the project was shut down in 2019, having been deemed unprofitable by French regulators. 

At present, only two smaller gas pipelines run from Spain into France, but they both have limited capacity.

Scholz arrives in Canada for energy talks

However, France — which relies heavily on nuclear power for its electricity generation — has been wary of reviving the project. It says the link would also take too long to complete to respond to the current crisis.

Spanish Energy and Environment Minister Teresa Ribera on Monday chided France for its apparent reluctance to back the project. 

"It's not a bilateral issue between Spain and France," said Ribera in an interview published in Spanish daily El Mundo. "It's about the European project. I wonder where is France's European ideal."

rc/nm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)