France cools plans for construction of Midcat pipeline (again)

The French Ministry of Ecological Transition claims that the pipeline would take "many years" to become operational

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Pedro Sánchez, this Saturday with Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée.

MADRIDIn France, there is still uncertainty around the MidCat gas pipeline, which would connect Catalonia with France over the Pyrenees. Despite the optimism from the Spanish government, Emmanuel Macron's ministers still see the infrastructure as a distant project. "[The MidCat] would take many years to come into operation and, therefore, would not provide an answer to the current crisis," the French Ministry of Ecological Transition, headed by Agnès Pannier-Runacher, tells ARA via email.

Historically, France has always looked askance at this infrastructure. In fact, one of the great uncertainties that hangs over the MidCat is its continuity beyond Catalonia, that is, on the other side of the border. Thus, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's words giving support to the pipeline for the first time have not, for the moment, changed France's position.

The ministry headed by Pannier-Runacher is more favourable to promoting infrastructures to receive liquefied natural gas (LNG). "It is faster and makes it possible to import gas from Gulf countries or the United States". Without going any further, Spain is planning to reopen the Musel regasification plant in Asturias to be able to re-export LNG to other European countries, and Italy is also increasing the amount of methane tankers it receives from the port of Barcelona, as well as finalising the construction of a new floating plant. "The implementation of LNG terminals in northern and eastern Europe (and in particular in Germany) involves smaller and faster investments," the French ministry points out.

At the same time, the French Government is not closed to a "dialogue" with interested EU Member States, as well as with the European Commission itself: "These are decisions that affect all Member States and, therefore, European dialogue are fundamental" in projects such as MidCat. The Spanish government has taken the same line, always stating the pipeline is not a "bilateral issue", that is, between Spain and France, but that European participation is "essential", especially when it comes to talking about the infrastructure's cost, as the Minister of Ecological Transition, Teresa Ribera, has repeatedly stressed. In fact, following Scholz's words, Ribera has also invited Germany to these negotiations.

"I do not know France's take on this," Ribera said on Wednesday, who recalled that France is exceptionally importing energy as a result of the situation faced by its nuclear power plants, many of which are not currently in operation. "Building Europe means building a common policy around [energy] infrastructures. I am sure that there will be a major debate in the coming months," concluded Ribera.

Future without fossil fuels

The French government is also looking to the future. On the one hand, they recall that Europe's goal is to do without fossil fuels by 2050. "Developing long-term gas infrastructures, at a time when Europe is accelerating its [ecological] transition, requires a good assessment," they insist. In this regard, while the Spanish government, but also Germany and the European Commission, have stressed that the infrastructure would help transport green hydrogen in the future, the French government is wary of this idea. "Uncertainties about hydrogen production and consumption are very high," they point out, and note that it is "complicated" to adapt the pipeline to the transport of green hydrogen.

Even so, France recalls that in 2019, both the French and Spanish regulator chose to "abandon the project" and, just as happened in Catalonia, refers to "local opposition", especially in the Rhône valley, as well as from environmental associations because of MidCat's environmental impact.