Spain and France scrap controversial gas pipeline for undersea project

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Spain and France have agreed to build an undersea gas pipeline between the two countries, abandoning controversial plans for a gas link over the Pyrenees as European leaders seek ways to tackle the energy crisis.

The new project ends a long-running Franco-Spanish dispute over Midcat, the Pyrenean gas pipeline project that Madrid has strongly advocated but Paris has opposed.

Speaking in Brussels at an EU summit, French, Spanish and Portuguese leaders described a “green energy corridor” including an undersea gas 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 electrical interconnections between the French and Spanish networks.

The new plans will better balance Europe’s need for gas imports with its long-term mission to fight 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”. Its energy minister, Teresa Ribera, called the deal “superb”.

The deal underscores EU efforts to maintain unity ahead of what analysts predict will be a tough winter. The bloc has sought to bolster its energy infrastructure following Moscow’s decision to cut gas supplies in retaliation for EU support for Ukraine.

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

Spain had previously argued that the Midcat pipeline could be built for €375 million by the end of 2023. But France predicted a €3 billion cost, longer construction time and strong opposition local. Olaf Scholz, German chancellor, had publicly supported Spain on Midcat.

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

Countries are touting the undersea pipeline as a green project to make it eligible for EU funding, saying it would mainly transport hydrogen or “other renewable gases”, energy expert Thierry Bros said at Sciences Po in Paris. “It would only be built if the EU injected money.”

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

Enagás chief executive Arturo Gonzalo Aizpiri said Thursday: “It’s a very technically sound proposal and it would reduce the environmental and social impact.”

Macron said he would travel to Spain in early December to finalize the project.

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