HomeBlogFinanceSpain and France ditch contentious gas pipeline for undersea project

Spain and France ditch contentious gas pipeline for undersea project

Spain and France have agreed to build an undersea energy pipeline between the two countries, dropping contentious plans for a gas link over the Pyrenees as EU leaders seek ways to cope with the energy crisis.

The new project brings to an end a long-running Franco-Spanish dispute over Midcat, the Pyrenean pipeline plan Madrid advocated strongly but that Paris opposed.

Speaking in Brussels during an EU summit, the French, Spanish and Portuguese leaders outlined a “green energy corridor” comprising a submarine pipeline designed to carry gas and hydrogen from Barcelona to Marseille, as well as new gas links between Portugal and Spain. They also agreed to improve electricity interconnections between the French and Spanish grids.

The new plans will better balance Europe’s need for more gas imports with its long-term mission of fighting climate change, French president Emmanuel Macron said. “This is an important moment for European solidarity.”

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez said they would “unite the Iberian peninsula with France and therefore the European energy market”. His energy minister Teresa Ribera described the deal as “superb”.

The agreement underlines EU efforts to maintain unity ahead of what analysts predict will be a difficult winter. The bloc has been seeking to bolster its energy infrastructure following Moscow’s decision to cut gas supplies as retaliation for EU support for Ukraine.

António Costa, the Portuguese prime minister, said the new undersea plan allowed the countries “to overcome a historic blockage”.

Spain previously argued the Midcat pipeline could be built for €375mn by the end of 2023. But France predicted a cost of €3bn, a longer construction time and stiff local opposition. Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, had publicly backed Spain on Midcat.

A Spanish official said the submarine pipeline, dubbed BarMar, would trigger fewer environmental concerns, but said that it would take longer to build and cost more than the previous project.

The countries are casting the undersea pipeline as a green project to make it eligible for EU funding, saying it would primarily transport hydrogen or “other renewable gases”, said Thierry Bros, an energy expert at Sciences Po in Paris. “This would only get built if the EU kicks in the money.”

The Spanish official said Enagás, the country’s gas grid operator and the company that was ready to build Midcat, had studied the undersea pipeline idea in recent days.

Enagás chief executive Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri said on Thursday: “It is a very solid proposal technically and would reduce the environmental and social impact.”

Macron said he would go to Spain in early December to finalise the project.

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