The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, advocated this Thursday for the construction of a gas pipeline linking Portugal and Spain with Central Europe through France, an element that, in his opinion, would be essential in the context of the European energy crisis after the Ukraine war. “I have proposed that this project be addressed with my Spanish and Portuguese counterparts, but also in talks with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and with the president of the European Commission, Ursula van der Leyen,” said the German head of government in his first summer press conference as chancellor, a traditional appointment implanted by his predecessor, Angela Merkel.
This infrastructure would contribute “massively” to alleviate supply problems, said the chancellor, who has led Europe’s largest economy since December and has had to adopt tough measures to deal with the energy crisis that arose as a result of the Russian invasion. from Ukraine. Scholz considers that this gas pipeline is “conspicuously absent” in the European debate. Von der Leyen has also advocated on other occasions for a work of these characteristics with the argument that it would be of great geostrategic importance. It is estimated that this gas pipeline would require an investment of 440 million euros.
Spain, which has the largest regasification capacity in all of Europe, has already offered in the negotiation on energy cuts to increase interconnections with the continent. “The integration of European energy policies has great advantages for everyone,” said a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Ecological Transition on Thursday. “We positively value the foreign minister’s message,” she added. “It is essential that interconnections do not remain a bilateral issue. Greater involvement of the European Commission and the Council will help speed up investments”, they add in the department headed by Vice President Teresa Ribera.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine last February, Germany had promoted Nord Stream 2, a project controlled by Russia’s Gazprom to transport Russian gas directly through the Baltic seabed without passing through Ukraine, in the face of criticism from many countries. But the Kremlin attack has made it unfeasible, forcing Europe’s leading economy to seek alternative sources of energy supply. Since President Vladimir Putin entered his southern neighbor with fire and sword, concern over energy security has been heightened across Europe, an issue especially urgent in Germany, which relies heavily on Russian gas.
Berlin, concerned about gas shortages this winter, has already taken various steps to diversify its gas supply sources. “A gas pipeline of these characteristics would massively resolve current problems,” said the foreign minister. Scholz, who leads a tripartite between Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, added on Thursday that the existence of connections with North Africa would help diversify supply and avoid European dependence on Russian gas.
Spain now has a single connection with France: the double gas pipeline called VIP Pyrenees, which runs under the western part of that mountain range. This means that, compared to a capacity to regasify 60,000 million cubic meters per year, only about 7,000 million cubic meters can be sent. The second project, the Midcat, which runs through Catalonia and was to double the shipping capacity, was paralyzed at the time because it was considered unfeasible. The war in Ukraine, however, changed that perception and the project has been revived. For the 226 kilometers of pipe that remain to be laid, Enagás, the manager of the Spanish gas system, made an investment of 370 million last July. The term of execution was estimated at the time in about two years before being operational.
But that is not the only investment contemplated by Enagás. His plan also allocated 1,980 million to a gas pipeline between Livorno (Italy) and Barcelona. This tube, about 700 kilometers long, should also allow the transport of hydrogen. Being underwater, it is estimated that it could be completed faster: in a period of between one and two years. The third international connection defended by the Spanish gas operator is an interconnection with Portugal, which would be added to the two already existing ones, with a disbursement of some 110 million. Scholz, who has given few details about his plans, has not made it clear if they would contemplate the use of any of these infrastructures. What is clear is that, in the current situation, the export of gas from the Iberian Peninsula is conditioned by a bottleneck. An argument, that of energy insularity, used by the Government to reduce the effort that Brussels required in the savings plans.
In addition to the mention of the gas pipeline that connects the Iberian Peninsula with the rest of Europe, the war in Ukraine has focused much of the intervention of the German head of government. Scholz called Russia’s aggression in Ukraine the biggest challenge facing Germany and the world and promised more support for kyiv, though he did not elaborate on future arms deliveries. The foreign minister said that any future peace agreement between kyiv and Moscow should satisfy Ukrainian demands.
Faced with criticism received for his lack of courage in supporting the attacked country, the Social Democrat emphasized that Germany has broken with the tradition of not supplying weapons to conflict zones to supply them to Ukraine. Moscow’s actions embrace a political conception of aggressive territorial appropriation typical of other centuries, Scholz said.
“The Russian president is responsible for this war,” he added before insisting on the need to investigate the crimes committed in Ukraine, although he declined to specify whether Putin should personally answer for these actions. “There can only be an end to the war with Ukraine’s consent,” Scholz stressed. “Only the Ukrainian president, the Parliament and the people should ultimately decide on what terms the conflict could be resolved. A dictatorial peace by Russia is out of the question,” he assured.
The chancellor confirmed again that the war has unleashed an energy crisis and a rise in prices that will pose considerable challenges in the coming months, but he expressed confidence that Germany will be able to get through the winter with guarantees and promised that his government will not let the citizens are cold or find themselves in the situation of not being able to pay their heating and electricity bills.
“The government will do everything possible to help, in particular, people with low or medium incomes to get through this difficult time,” he said, recalling the measures that the coalition government with the Greens and Liberals has already taken to alleviate the financial difficulties of part of the population and to ensure the supply of alternative energy to Russian oil, coal and gas. Scholz promised new measures, including tax breaks, to help households cope with rising energy prices.
Asked if he fears that frustration over inflation and its economic consequences will lead to violent social protests, Scholz replied: “I don’t think there will be riots in this country.”
The country is trying to reconcile reducing dependence on Russian energy with long-term plans to phase out nuclear power and the use of fossil fuels. But given the situation and the need to reduce Russia’s energy contribution, the German government gave the green light to public service companies to reactivate the closed oil and coal plants to fight climate change. In addition, Scholz explained that the Executive is considering the possibility of extending the useful life of the three nuclear plants still open in the country beyond the end of the year, even while the projects to massively increase the generation of renewable energy in the short and medium term.
“The most important thing we can do to achieve (energy) sovereignty in the future and, at the same time, do what is necessary for our economic future, is to expand renewable energy and protect the climate,” said the foreign minister, who admitted that the Germany’s dependence on Russian energy – criticized during this time by allies such as the United States, which also opposed the start-up of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, now paralyzed – had been a mistake, and that the country should have diversified its supplies sooner.
The chancellor also had to listen to uncomfortable questions during the press conference about his alleged relationship with the Cum Ex banking scandal, which started during his time as mayor of Hamburg (2011-2018). The tax authorities of the city-state gave up demanding the return of taxes for tens of millions of euros from a bank that had fraudulently avoided them. The case has been intensified after money of unknown origin was found at the moment in a safe belonging to his party partner Johannes Kahrs, who acted as an intermediary between the then mayor and direct members of the financial institution. Scholz claimed that he knows “nothing” about that money.
The chancellor affirmed that no political influence has been shown in the case cum ex and described as “surprising” that the debate on this issue resurfaces after years. “I am looking forward to being questioned again by the Hamburg investigation commission,” she said with a smile. His appearance in the Hamburg Parliament is scheduled for August 19.
As the traditional summer press conference drew to a close for an hour and a half of questions, a journalist wanted to know if Scholz missed former Chancellor Angela Merkel. Scholz leaned back for a moment, smiled, then said, “I like talking to her on the phone, but I also like being chancellor now.”
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