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France, Spain bury German hopes of gas pipeline

France, Spain and Portugal on Thursday ditched a gas pipeline project fiercely lobbied for by Germany, announcing instead an underwater conduit that left experts sceptical.

Leaders of the three countries, meeting just before an EU summit in Brussels, 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”.

MidCat a project that emerged a decade ago, called for an overland gas pipeline to be built from Spain, across France, and into Germany. But it was dropped in 2019 over regulatory and funding issues.

In its place, they said, an underwater pipeline — called BarMar — would be laid from Barcelona in Spain to Marseille in France that would initially be used for natural gas but, over time, more and more for hydrogen.

The statement did not set out any costing, financing or timeline for the construction of the underwater pipeline.

The announcement came against a backdrop of a dispute between Germany and France over the MidCat project.

Germany, whose economy is tilted towards recession because supplies of cheap Russian gas it has long relied on have been cut off as a consequence of Moscow’s war in Ukraine, has been stridently calling for Paris to greenlight MidCat.

That would give it access to gas supplies Spain and Portugal get, in large part from Algeria.

– ‘Pretty satisfied’ –

Spain currently has six liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals for processing gas that arrives by sea which could help the EU boost imports with a better link.

But it only has two low-capacity links to France’s gas network, which has connections to the rest of Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out the building of MidCat, pointing out that Europe is pushing towards a greener future away from fossil fuels, and stressing that France can produce the hydrogen Germany needs.

On arrival at the EU summit, Macron said the BarMar pipeline agreement was a sign of “European solidarity” that supported “our climate and energy transition strategy”.

He said he would visit Spain in December to “finalise” the project, which he said was designed to benefit from EU financing.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who had been backing Germany’s efforts, called the abandonment of MidCat and the plan for BarMar a “magnificent decision”.

Gonzalo Escribano, an energy expert at Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute, noted that BarMar offered no short-term solution to the energy crisis aggravated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

He said Spain’s government “can be pretty satisfied” with the joint announcement given that it “did not really want a new gas pipeline but didn’t want to snub Germany” either.

“France, obviously, is keeping its position and this way gets rid of a bit of the pressure exerted by Germany,” he said.