President defends Catalonia's importance in distributing gas in Europe
Aragonès seeks to boost his foreign agenda by strengthening economic ties with Germany
Stuttgart (Germany)Pere Aragonès wants to recover the Generalitat's foreign presence and to do so he has two allies: the remission of the pandemic, which facilitates travel, and the political moment of dialogue with the State, which leaves more open doors abroad than during the clash. In this context, the President packed his bags on Tuesday for Stuttgart, on a trip that will last until Thursday and that will also take him to Berlin. The Russian attack on Ukraine has made its way into the agenda, as has the impact on the gas market.
The first stop was in the capital of the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, and the Catalan delegation was made to feel at home. As an example, at the entrance of the governmental headquarters, there was a German flag, a Baden-Württemberg flag, a European flag and a Catalan flag. Not a trace of the Spanish flag. Inside, for one day the wifi network was called Katalonien. This proximity is not new, since Baden-Württemberg and Catalonia have long shared economic ties since they have been part of the Four Motors for Europe for more than thirty years, a political-economic alliance in which Lombardy and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes also participate. Moreover, the German state and Catalonia share several similarities, among them being industrial and export zones with a presence of many small and medium-sized companies.
At the German government headquarters, Aragonès was to meet minister-president Winfried Kretschmann, but he finally stayed away due to covid. Instead, he joined the meeting online. The person in charge of receiving the Catalan president was the Secretary of State, Florian Hassler, a rank equivalent to that of a vice-president. After the meeting, a brief institutional declaration was made to vindicate the "intensity" of the economic ties between the two regions and future new collaborations.
Consequences of the Russian invasion
Thursday's leg of the trip will be the most interesting, but also less public. Aragonès will hold working meetings to address the issue of the Midcat gas pipeline in Berlin, which passes through Catalonia. The works were stopped in 2019, but this infrastructure has now regained importance in the wake of the Russian attack on Ukraine. And it is also important for Germany, which would see in this pipeline the possibility to stop depending as much as now on Russian gas and import more from Algeria. It is not a much more stable area, but today, with the Russian invasion, it is seen in a better light. At the conference of presidents at the weekend in La Palma, Aragonès already asked the Midcat works were restarted, an issue for which it is necessary, above all, that Spain and France reach an understanding.
But the issue was also discussed at the Baden-Württemberg government headquarters. Aragonès took advantage of the institutional declaration to defend the "strategic position" of Catalonia in the distribution of gas in Europe. He said the regasification plant at the port of Barcelona was the "largest in Europe" and that the Midcat pipeline not only could transport gas, but also green hydrogen, an alternative energy that is gaining traction. According to Aragonès, it would also allow to gain "energy sovereignty". In fact, Catalonia and Baden-Württemberg have agreed to create a working group to analyse the potential of green hydrogen. Hassler has also shown interest in this energy because he has admitted that the fact his country depends "65%" on Russian gas is a weakness.
Aragonès' trip to Germany is eminently economic. Early in the morning and accompanied by Business and Employment Minister Roger Torrent he visited IBM's quantum computing facilities and the German research institute Fraunhofer. In the afternoon, the expedition will visit the multinational technology company Freudenberg Group, which has 650 workers in Catalonia and five production plants. Torrent is also to visit Berlin innovation institutions such as Plattform Industrie 4.0, Hyundai Cradle and Factory Berlin. On the other hand, Aragonès will learn firsthand how the thousands of refugees arriving daily from Ukraine are being received.