Pending accounts with France

Pending accounts with France

Forty years ago there was a key word to define the relationship between France and Spain: ETA. The collaboration of the French authorities was absolutely necessary to defeat the terrorist organization, which refused to recognize the existence of a regime of freedoms in Spain after Franco’s death. A regime that is the result of the transaction, but also of the struggle of the democratic opposition to the dictatorship. Only the “political-military” faction accepted that reality. François Mitterrand began to deploy a more severe policy in the eighties. The last deadly attack by ETA was committed on French soil on March 16, 2010, when three members of the gang murdered the policeman Jean-Serge Nèrin, in the course of a shootout.

Thirteen years later, the key word is interconnection. Energy and rail connections are the central issues today. Fortunately, maps have replaced guns.

The electrical interconnections, which Paris now wants to accelerate, are the great pending issue

These are not easy maps to solve, since France has a very self-sufficient energy model based on the primacy of nuclear energy and takes great care of its logistical possibilities with the center of Europe and North Africa: the neighborhood with Germany and the influence in the Maghreb.

France and Spain maintain intense trade relations. French trade with Spain exceeds in volume that France maintains with the People’s Republic of China. Spanish trade with France exceeds that of Spanish companies with all the countries of America combined, from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Where there is trade, understanding flourishes, the classics hold. Relations between the two countries are good, but there is also tough competition. And the key to this competition is in the Pyrenees.

Spain, together with Portugal, want to sell more electricity in the European market and for this they need more and better connections with France, eager to protect its strategic nuclear industry.

The European Union advised in 2002 that cross-border connections transport 10% of the electricity production capacity of each country. Spain and Portugal are about to meet this requirement in the Iberian sphere. The same does not happen between Spain and France. Spain today can only export to the rest of the continent, through France, 2.8% of the electricity it produces. With the submarine cable that is being planned in the Bay of Biscay, plus two other land interconnections through the Basque Country and Navarra, Spain could reach 2030 with an export capacity of 8%. For that date, the European Union recommendation is 15%. As a result of the maintenance problems that have arisen in its nuclear park, France has expressed greater interest in recent months in accelerating electrical interconnections with the Iberian Peninsula.

There will be a hydrogen connection with Barcelona, ​​with a plan behind it: to strengthen the port of Marseille

Gas. France has rejected the Spanish-Portuguese proposal to resume the Midcat gas pipeline to send methane to central Europe, to help replace Russian gas. It has been an intense discussion that has resulted in a third way: a submarine interconnection between the ports of Barcelona and Marseille for the transport of green hydrogen to the Central European industry, a pipeline that would be technically prepared for the shipment of gas.

Maps, maps, maps. France is currently betting on strengthening the port of Marseille, in connection with the powerful metropolitan area of ​​Lyon. Marseille-Lyon facing the Spanish Mediterranean corridor. France will not give the Iberian Peninsula logistics with North Africa and central Europe. Having said this, which is not a small thing, political relations are excellent.

Mediterranean corridor

Traffic jam between Perpignan and Montpellier

Salvador Enguix / Valencia

The French executive has still not made a move to clarify whether it will take any measure to relieve the bottleneck between Perpignan and Montpellier, a stopper that threatens the fluidity of the Mediterranean corridor as it joins Europe. This section is not technically adapted for high speed and could hardly absorb greater freight traffic. Some statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron suggest that his government wants to strengthen the Marseille-Lyon axis, which according to experts consulted could be bad news for the Mediterranean corridor.

A report from the Office of the Government Commissioner for the Mediterranean Corridor directed by Josep Vicent Boira, carried out at the end of last year warned of the French plans not to unblock the French connection until 2044, within 22 years. The freight trains that will circulate much earlier from Almería passing through Valencia and Barcelona, ​​will find a blockage that will slow down rail communication in their access to Europe.

The Spanish Government took note of the alert and steps have been taken to clarify the situation, although ADIF sources indicate that “at the moment there is no news”.

Image of the works on the Mediterranean corridor on the north bank of the Llobregat river

Image of the works on the Mediterranean corridor on the north bank of the Llobregat river

Xavier Cervera

passenger trains

Renfe is still out of the French network

David Guerrero/Barcelona

The trains of the French companies arrive every day at the Sants station from Paris, but the same trip cannot be done in reverse in a Renfe convoy. The public company responsible for the railway infrastructures of the neighboring country prevents it, unlike Adif, which gave the green light to circulate on the Spanish tracks to the two-story Euroduplexes with which the French and Catalan capitals are connected daily. Both that route and others between Spain and the south of France were operated for ten years through a joint venture half-owned by Renfe and its French counterpart, the SNCF, and continued until the French decided unilaterally to break the contract last year. The French public company justified this by the lack of profitability of cross-border services, although the most weighty argument was the entry with its low-cost brand Ouigo in the Barcelona-Madrid corridor. The French also took advantage of the fact that they had permission to circulate in both countries. Renfe, on the other hand, cannot do so due to the infinity of technical and bureaucratic obstacles that the regulators of the French country are placing on trains that have been running on its tracks for years.

Renfe is now focusing all its efforts on recovering the connections lost since December with cities with Lyon and Marseille. This week they have been able to carry out the first tests.

Image of the Renfe de Portbou station in a file image

Image of the Renfe de Portbou station in a file image


The Basque ‘Y’

The French plug at the other end of the Pyrenees

Ander Goyoaga/Bilbao

Another project that continues without finding a satisfactory cross-border solution for all parties is the connection with France of the so-called railway ‘Y’, the Basque high-speed railway. The situation is very similar to the Catalan border.

After innumerable delays, the Basque ‘Y’ project could be a reality in 2027. However, one of the major objectives of the project, that of connecting with Europe within an Atlantic Corridor approach, will have to wait.

The French government prioritizes the Bordeaux-Toulouse railway section and has postponed the new branch that from the Bordeaux capital would head towards Irún. A report by the European Union states that the works on the cross-border connection will not begin before 2037. Consequently, the high-speed trains that cross the Basque ‘Y’ will have to put the brakes on as soon as they reach the Irún border. From there, they must travel at reduced speed to Bordeaux.

78% of the elected officials in the Commonwealth of Pays Basque, which brings together 158 municipalities, have opposed the project.

Works on the high-speed train at the North Station in San Sebastián

Works on the high-speed train at the North Station in San Sebastián

EFE/Javier Etxezarreta


Five electrical connections that are insufficient

Pilar Blazquez/Madrid

Energy has been a recurring theme at the Spanish-French summits. Whether or not to expand the few energy connections has always been a source of geopolitical conflict of greater or lesser intensity depending on the moment.

The traditional French reluctance to facilitate this interconnection between Spain and the rest of the continent through its territory has changed in the last year.

The gas shortage caused by the war and the problems that France has had to face in the last year due to deficiencies in its nuclear park have turned the French country into an importer instead of its traditional export position. In the last half of 2022 alone, France imported 6,729 GWh from Spain. In the last five years it had exported a measure of 2,165 GWh.

Between the two countries, only five electrical connections work across the Pyrenees with a total of 2,800MW of power, barely 2.8% of the country’s total energy capacity. 12,000 MW would be needed to reach 10%.

One of the issues that will be addressed at this summit will be to adjust the payment commitments of the submarine infrastructure that comes to alleviate part of that deficit and that should be completed in 2023 through the Bay of Biscay. With it, the exchange capacity would be expanded to 5,000 MW, still far from the new requirement imposed by Brussels that requires an interconnection of 15% in 2030.

In the gas field, French needs have encouraged the Spanish Government to expand the two current connections by Larrau (Navarra) and Irún (Guipúzcoa) in 2022, which allow the delivery of some 8,000 million cubic meters of gas annually, which is so only 4.5% of Russian gas imports from the EU.

In this area, both countries have abandoned their gas interconnection projects to bet on a future infrastructure, the H2Med, which will connect Barcelona and Marseille to transport only hydrogen but whose progress at the moment “is in the technical details that Brussels must assess”. as Second Vice President Teresa Ribera explained on Monday and, therefore, “it is not on the agenda of this summit that addresses political issues,” he said.

The agreement to build the H2Med that must connect Barcelona and Marseille was closed at the end of 2022 in Alicante

The agreement to build the H2Med that must connect Barcelona and Marseille was closed at the end of 2022 in Alicante

EFE/ Kai Forsterling


The steps of the Pyrenees, half

Joaquin Vera / Madrid

In 2020, in full expansion of the coronavirus, Spain and France closed the border of the Pyrenees to stop the pandemic. A year later, when the restrictions were relaxed, Paris opposed the reopening of all 37 border posts between the two neighboring countries with the excuse, this time, of combating irregular immigration and terrorism. It did so under the protection of articles 25 and 27 of the Schengen Border Code, and the Spanish government respected it.

Currently, the blockade continues in eight of the steps. Four in the Atlantic Pyrenees and another four passes in the Eastern Pyrenees. For now, the full reopening of the border is not planned and it is something that will be discussed at tomorrow’s summit.

File image of a French police customs office

File image of a French police customs office


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