the shift in the Sahara threatens to complicate the relationship with our great gas supplier

  • 49

March is not making it easy on the geopolitical board. Nor in energy. The month began with Kremlin troops advancing towards kyiv and is about to end with a Historical turn in the position of Spain in the face of the Sahara conflict. The former had clear consequences in terms of energy, such as the fact that the European Union has proposed cut its dependence on Russian oil and gas. The second, at least and while waiting for the reactions to occur, threatens to strain relations between our country and Algeria, one of the major providers of natural gas.

The political move, on this occasion, was somewhat more unexpected than the one made by Vladimir Putin at the end of February. Yesterday afternoon Rabat revealed that the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, has conveyed to the Alaouite king Mohamed VI that he sees the Moroccan autonomy plan for Western Sahara as “the most serious and realistic basis” to resolve the conflict in the former African colony.

A turn with an eye on Algeria

In practice, the Moncloa movement breaks with the traditional position of Spain, which has remained in tune with the UN —in 1991 passed a resolution which recognizes the right to a self-determination referendum—and has advocated an “acceptable” solution for the two parties in dispute, Morocco and the Polisario Front. From neutrality, we go to align with Rabat.

With the change, the Government hopes to close the diplomatic crisis that it has had with Morocco for months and to open a “new stage” in the relationship with Rabat, marked by collaboration in the control of migration or the end of any dispute over Ceuta and Melilla. However, the movement could also have a drift in energy policy. Approaching Morocco means moving away, at least as far as the Saharawi conflict is concerned, from Algeria, a key gas supplier for Spain. And it means doing it, moreover, with an open debate to reduce dependence on Russia.

Burn coal, buy from Algeria, methane tankers: how Europe can reduce its dependence on Russia

Algeria is aligned with the Polisario Front, which demands the self-determination of the Sahara, not the limited autonomy offered by Morocco. The relations between both states, faced by the influence in the Maghreb, is not easy and their frictions have already been felt in a certain way in the field of energy. In October Algeria cut the Maghreb-Europe (GME) gas pipeline in order to prevent Rabat from benefiting from the rights of way and part of its gas. The Algerian country has maintained the supply to Spain thanks to the pipeline that links both coasts and ships. In 2021, more than 45% of gas that was imported and consumed in Spain came from there.

Until the end of last year, Algeria was in fact the main exporter of natural gas to Spain, since, according to Enagás data, has occupied the US in recent months. The operator’s monthly bulletin shows that in February Spain bought 12,472 gigawatt hours (GWh) of natural gas from the United States, which represents 32.9% of total imports; compared to 8,801 in the North African country, which was left with a “fee” of 23.2%. Both supplies are different, yes: the American arrives aboard methane tankers loaded with LNG; that of Algeria, through Medgaz. In February, Russian gas totaled 2,174 GWh, 17.7% less than in 2021.

Arrival of the Geopig

Operation tests of the Medgaz submarine gas pipeline in Beni Saf, Algeria.

Algeria has not yet ruled on Spain’s turn, but proof that the government’s decision can strain the relationship between the two countries is that the executive itself has had to go out to calm any type of fear. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Maniel Albares, explained yesterday afternoon that Algeria is “a reliable partner” of Spain and guaranteed that the strategic relationship with the country “is destined to endure over time”. Although Albares did not reveal whether or not he has spoken with his Algerian counterpart, Ramtane Lammra, from the Government have confirmed to The country that Algiers had been informed in advance of the change in position in the Western Sahara conflict.

Is it now possible to foresee a reaction from Algeria? The same half date to a local journalist who assures that the Government “is furious” and points out that there are media in the African country that do not rule out that tomorrow there may be a pronouncement. Fridays and Saturdays are public holidays there. As Spain turns around at a time when Algeria may benefit from the EU’s rejection of Moscow, other diplomatic sources rule out however that Algiers can turn off the tap. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, Spain negotiated an increase in supply for all of Europe.

Images | Andalusian PSOE (Flickr) and Medgaz

March is not making it easy on the geopolitical board. Nor in energy. The month began with Kremlin troops advancing…

March is not making it easy on the geopolitical board. Nor in energy. The month began with Kremlin troops advancing…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.