France digs in heels over Iberian plans for gas pipeline into Europe
Image taken by Filipe Singer/ EPA / Lusa

France digs in heels over Iberian plans for gas pipeline into Europe

French veto throws government’s hopes for Sines port into question

Proposals by Portugal and Spain for a gas pipeline to connect the Iberian Peninsula to the rest of Europe are continuing to be blocked by France, with its president, Emmanuel Macron, again expressing his opposition to the plan at the energy summit in Prague arguing that Europe should instead invest in electricity interconnections.

Asked about the issue upon arrival in Prague – where an informal political summit of European leaders is being held – Macron began by saying he has spoken “many times” about this issue, pointing out that current connections are underused, with France at times even exporting gas to Spain, and again opposed a project that he said would take “five to eight years” to realise, keeping Europe heavily dependent on gas imports from third countries.

The French head of state said there are already “many interconnections” that allow France to “export gas to Germany and even Spain for example” – two countries, in addition to Portugal, that have insisted on the importance of the gas pipeline.

He claimed that current connections are underused.

Thus his continuing rejection of the so-called ‘MidCat’ interconnection project. It is not the solution that Europe needs, he told reporters.

“I support interconnection projects, but what does Europe need in the coming years?” he quizzed: “to produce more electricity on its soil and to have a renewable and nuclear strategy. And are we using the full capacity of the existing connections? No, we are at fifty or sixty percent.”

“And do we have the will to be durably large importers of gas?” he added. “No, our strategy is mainly about hydrogen. If it is about hydrogen, we should say so now.

“The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are going to circulate hydrogen throughout Europe or, rather, electricity to make electrolysis (to generate green hydrogen). It is a real strategic discussion that we should have. I believe that our priority is rather an electric interconnection in Europe, and so I am more in favour of that project.”

These statements appear to throw a major spanner in the Portuguese government’s hopes and plans for Sines port – albeit that as recently as September 22, in an interview with Lusa in Brussels, Tiago Antunes, Portugal’s secretary of state for European affairs, said the government still believed it could be “possible to convince France” to back interconnections from the Iberian Peninsula for the supply of gas, and later hydrogen, to Europe.

The interesting aspect of this interview was that there is a Plan B (a plan for the scenario that France continues to dig in its heels):  “There is currently another scenario being studied, which is the hypothesis of a direct connection between Spain and Italy, by sea (…) So if it is not possible to go ahead with MidCat, we are naturally considering that other scenario and we think it could be an alternative.”

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com