Building a gas pipeline across the Pyrenees mountains is “in Europe’s interest” and a project that Spain will vigorously defend despite top-level French opposition, a minister said Tuesday.
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 Madrid is now pushing hard for the revival of the project with the full backing of Berlin, which has now had Russian gas deliveries via a key pipeline shut off for the indefinite future.
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,” French President 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.”
– ‘Unpleasant words’ –
His remarks did little to dampen Spain’s enthusiasm for the pipeline, with Energy Minister Teresa 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.
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.