The president of France, Emmanuel Macron, has effectively buried the proposal for the Midcat gas pipeline after speaking this Monday with the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, arguing that the energy link that would connect Spain with France through the Catalan Pyrenees "is not necessary". The key point made by Macron is that the current interconnections between both states are operating well below capacity, since the two gas pipelines that cross the Basque Country and Navarre are "underutilized". In fact, the French president stated that since February they have been operating at 53% of their maximum, and moreover, that during August it was France that exported gas to Spain and not the other way around. "I don't understand the short-term problem that people are trying to solve. If we were at 100% utilization, I would say the opposite," he said.
On the other hand, Macron has indeed shown himself in favour of "developing electrical connections with Spain" for the export to Europe of energy produced from renewable sources. But he made it very clear that he is closing the door on Midcat, whose project is not justified for either energy or environmental reasons. "I am not convinced that more gas interconnections are needed. We want to develop all the interconnections that make sense," he stressed. And this, after Scholz himself had shown support to his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, for the construction of the gas pipeline without the approval of the French president. The Midcat project foresaw the construction of a new interconnection between Spain and France through Catalonia, but was already shelved in 2019 as it was not considered economic. Thus, there has remained a 226-kilometre stretch to build from Hostalric, north of Barcelona, to Barbairan, near Carcassonne, in France. The French have maintained that it would not only be very expensive, but the implementation would take years and would not offer any advantage in the current energy crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Official rejection of Midcat and European solidarity with electricity
On the other hand, Emmanuel Macron recognized that France needs "European solidarity over electricity" due to the fact that more than half of the country's nuclear reactors are currently not producing due to technical issues. That is why he has shown himself in favour of reforming the European electricity market so that prices are set "consistently" and in line "with production prices". Along these lines, he has said that his country favours common purchases of gas on a Europe-wide basis and the setting of price caps for Russian gas exported to Europe by pipeline.
Macron's official rejection of the Midcat comes just after it became known that the Nord Stream gas pipeline will be closed until further notice, which will increase the price of gas. In fact, this Monday was a tense and nervous morning in Europe for this reason. While prices began to fall last week amid some optimism it might be possible to get through the winter months without households and industry having to cut off supplies, the Nord Stream shutdown has refocused markets on the problem and it seems clear enough that prices will rise again.