EU chief calls Spain-France gas connections ‘critical’

EU commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called Friday for resuming work on a new gas pipeline linking Spain and France, calling it a critical element to reduce dependence upon Russian energy.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech at the Cercle d'Economia 2022 annual meeting in Barcelona, on May 6, 2022. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP

“Now all of Europe agrees that we must cut our dependency on Russian fossil fuels,” Von der Leyen said during an appearance in Barcelona alongside Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Last week, Russia cut off gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria as the Kremlin reacted to tightening EU sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

“It is crucial for our climate goals and to end the Kremlin’s blackmail,” she added.

Von der Leyen pointed to the recently agreed plan by the bloc’s 27 member states called REPowerEU that aims to reinforce energy independence and reduce dependence on Russian gas.

Under that plan “we will privilege cross-border projects, for example the critical connection between Portugal, Spain and France,” she said.

Spain currently has six liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals that could help the EU boost imports, but the problem is there are currently only two, low-capacity, links to France’s gas network, which has connections to countries
further east.

A project called Midcat to link Portugal, Spain and France was launched in 2013, but it drew opposition from environmental groups and work was halted in 2019 when financing fell through.

Von der Leyen said the project has geopolitical importance and needs to be resumed now so “together we can set ourselves free from Russian threats”.

The Spanish government is also favourable about resurrecting the pipeline project. However, it doesn’t want to contribute to the estimated 440 million euros in financing needed as the project doesn’t directly benefit Spain.


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French energy giants urge consumers to cut back

The war in Ukraine could mean that France faces an energy shortage and soaring prices by the winter. Energy companies are pleading with their customers to reduce consumption.

French energy giants urge consumers to cut back

Consumers should start cutting back on their energy use immediately, the bosses of France’s three big energy companies urged Sunday, warning of social tensions next winter unless reserves are replenished.

“The effort has to be immediate, collective and massive,” Patrick Pouyanne of TotalEnergies, Jean-Bernard Levy of EDF and Catherine MacGregor of ENGIE wrote in an op-ed piece in the JDD weekly.

READ MORE France no longer receiving any Russian gas via pipelines

The call came after the French government said this week it aimed to have its natural gas reserves at full capacity by autumn as European countries brace for supply cuts from major supplier Russia with the Ukraine war dragging on, and would build a floating terminal to receive more gas supplies by ship.

The three energy bosses said in the article that European energy production was further hampered by hydro-electric production suffering from drought.

“The surge in energy prices resulting from these difficulties threatens our social and political fabric and impacts families’ purchasing power too severely,” they said, adding: “The best energy is the one we don’t use.”

READ MORE How to save money on your energy bills in France

They said “every consumer and every company must change their habits and immediately limit their energy consumption, be it of electricity, gas or oil products”.

Replenishing reserves of natural gas over the summer is a priority, as is “eliminating the national waste” of energy, they said.

France is less dependent than neighbour Germany on Russian gas deliveries as it covers close to 70 percent of its electricity needs from nuclear energy.

But according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), France needs to accelerate the deployment of low-carbon energy technologies and energy efficiency solutions if it wants to reach its energy and climate targets.

France notably needs “more sustained and consistent policies” to develop alternatives to fossil fuels, such as wind and solar energy, the IEA said.