SHARE
COPY LINK

ENERGY

Spain defends MidCat gas link after Macron brush-off

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, Spain's Energy Minister said Tuesday.

spain france energy midcat
Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera said Macron "doesn't like the idea of a project he sees as being in the past", referring to the older MidCat plans. Photos: Ludovic MARIN, John THYS/AFP

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.”

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

PROTESTS

French bakers protest over surging power prices

Dressed in aprons and brandishing baguettes, hundreds of bakers demonstrated in the streets of Paris on Monday to warn that the country's beloved bread and croissant makers were under threat from surging electricity and raw material costs.

French bakers protest over surging power prices

“We feel like there’s a huge injustice,” said Sylvie Leduc from the rural Dordogne region who had travelled to the capital for the protest. “We know how to run a business, that’s not a problem, but we’re faced with increases that are just impossible to pass on to customers.”

The protest was yet another sign of the anger and incomprehension felt by many French people over the sudden price hikes linked to the war in Ukraine, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic that hit global supply chains.

Bakers were already struggling with higher butter and flour costs, while the price of eggs has also spiked because of a national bird flu outbreak that has hit many French farms.

The final straw for many of the country’s 35,000 bakeries has been the annual renewal of their electricity contracts, with suppliers suddenly asking for astronomical monthly payments in 2023.

READ MORE: Boulangeries across France face closure as energy bills skyrocket

Leduc’s husband Jean-Philippe said their power bill had increased six-fold in January, meaning they could hang on for only a few more months before being forced to close — unless financial help arrived. 

“Thirty years of being a baker and it’s going to finish like this? I could never have imagined it,” he said, shaking his head. “We don’t want hand-outs, we just want to be able to live from our work.” 

For the French, their local bakery is about more than simple food shopping: they serve as a symbol of the national way of life, while providing a focal point for many communities.

“The day starts with a baguette!” former presidential candidate Jean Lassalle, an ardent defender of traditional rural French communities, told AFP at the rally.

“These people are the ones who get up the earliest in France and they’ve had enough.”

‘Bakeries in Danger’

Given the emotional attachment to French bread, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has sought to highlight the help on offer for small business owners.

Macron welcomed bakers to the presidential palace on January 6, telling them: “I’m on your side”.

He outlined various government schemes which could help bring down electricity bills by 40 percent for eligible businesses.

But many of those demonstrating said the different systems put in place were either too complicated, too slow to deliver help, or  available for only the smallest bakeries with less than 12 employees, for example.

Some carried banners reading “Bakeries in Danger”, while one man pushed a wooden coffin on wheels with a skeleton inside dressed in a baker’s apron and trousers.

Many said they had always accepted the long hours, lack of sleep and gruelling physical labour out of the love for the profession, but felt compelled to hit the streets now.

“I’ve never seen bakers protest before,” said Joelle Reimel, 56, who said her monthly power bill for her bakery 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of Paris had increased from €2,500 a month to €14,000.

“We don’t have time to demonstrate normally. We’re up at 2am and go to bed at 8 in the evening.”

Pension protests

The protest came after one of the biggest demonstrations in decades last Thursday when more than a million people protested against an unpopular pension reform that will raise the age of retirement to 64 for most people.

Macron’s opponents have sought to pin the blame for electricity rises on him and European Union rules which mean power prices across the bloc are linked to the price of gas, even if the electricity is generated from other sources.

Anti-immigration and eurosceptic leader Marine Le Pen has assailed the “refusal of Emmanuel Macron to break from the absurd European rules on the electricity market.”

Macron has acknowledged that European electricity pricing rules are “flawed” and has promised to reform them.

For Lionel Bonnamy, the fate of France’s bakeries is also about the country’s economic model, which has long sought to protect small shopkeepers and artisans — what he called the “economic fabric” of the country.

“If we carry on this way, everything will look the same, uniform, big business,” said the award-winning baker from Paris.

SHOW COMMENTS