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Scholz Resumes Talks on Pipeline in Western Europe

Map showing the gas pipeline network between Spain and France including the MidCat project. Source: © AFP / Patricio ARANA.


This week, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, resumed talks on the construction of a pipeline in Western Europe that would connect Portugal, Spain, and France to central Europe. Scholz seemed to be positive about this project since, as reported by Reuters, "Such a pipeline would massively relieve the supply situation now."

As is well known, Germany is the European country most heavily dependent on Russian gas, and the war in Ukraine, with its uncertainties, is having numerous repercussions on the country’s economy.

As a result, the German Chancellor has been actively involved in discussions with his counterparts in Portugal, Spain, and France, as well as with the European Commission. All these actors agree at large on the necessity and feasibility of such a project. On this point, Scholz said that “I have been very active in talks with my two colleagues in Spain and Portugal, but also the French president and the president of the European Commission in advocating that we should take on such a project.”

The idea of a Westen pipeline running through Portugal, Spain, and France was already suggested in 2013 with the name MidCat. This would be a pipeline connecting the countries previously mentioned. Nevertheless, the idea was opposed by environmentalist groups and ultimately halted in 2019. Considering the current events, though, the project’s importance cannot be ignored, as it would substantially relieve Europe's dependence on Russian gas.

According to the original plan, the pipeline would be made up of two parts. The first would be called South Transit East Pyrenees (STEP), and it would continue the abandoned line in France for about 120 km. The second chunk would aim to strengthen the existing French gas network, covering about 800 km. The project’s main goal would be to double the amount of gas flowing between the two countries. In 2019, besides the intervention of several environmentalist groups, the French authorities decided that the plan was not financially achievable.

In the overall endeavor, Portugal is the key player. Accordingly, the country imports considerable amounts of liquefied natural gas (LNG) through the US port of Sines and from Nigeria but also through pipelines from Algeria and Morocco.

According to João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Representative of the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic, and former Minister for the Environment, “The port of Sines could be a new gateway for gas coming to Europe”. Consequently, Portugal’s major focus should be on the improvement of the country’s LNG offloading activities in the US port, increasing its storage capabilities, and constructing a pipeline to Spain. This, as Fernandes maintains, would “Increase its firm export capacity to Spain from 70 GW per day to 150 GW per day.” A pipeline between Spain and France is therefore paramount.

Nevertheless, while Spain intends to resume the project, France insists on the optimization of the existing infrastructure. According to the director of the French pipeline operator, Terega, the new pipeline would require massive investments and a considerable amount of time, at least five years.

Notwithstanding the French stance on the issue, Spain is positive about the influence that Scholz’s comments may have on the European institutions, as the pipeline is now considered one of the main priorities of the European energy policy. This is what the Spanish Industry Minister, Reyes Maroto, believes. Accordingly, as reported by Euronews, he stated that "Spain is well prepared" and that "We hope that if the German chancellor’s proposal prospers, we will have better gasification and more interconnections in Europe so as not to depend on Russian gas and be self-sufficient energy wise."

The new pipeline has the potential to become a game changer in Western Europe given Portugal’s capability to import big quantities of LNG and Spain’s well-developed LNG processing infrastructure (the country has currently six LNG plants, one of which is Europe’s largest facility located in Barcelona). Moreover, as the Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, pointed out, the importance of the port of Sines should not be ignored. The port, about 100 kilometers south of Lisbon, can "Speed up the distribution of liquefied natural gas in Europe" and thus "Relieve the congestion in the ports of northern Europe."

It is up now to the four leaders and the European institutions to finalize the decision on a project that offers the potential to change the rules of gas provisions in Europe. Accordingly, the new pipeline would enhance the positions of other players, first and foremost the US.  

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Tags: France Portugal Germany Spain European Union Gas MidCat Pipeline


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