European energy ministers met in Brussels to debate solidarity in times of gas crisis. At the same time, there is criticism of gas supplies from RWE to Morocco via Spain. What's going on?
Criticism was only took a few weeks. Since the beginning of July, the Essen-based energy company RWE has been delivering liquefied gas, imported from the USA, which is re-gasified at an LNG terminal in Spain, via a pipeline through the Mediterranean to Morocco.
Now media in Spain are speaking out with sharp statements: RWE is "saving" the Moroccan government, while European households are "living with uncertainty" in the face of the gas crisis, writes the Spanish online medium Diario16. The German power company is using the gas pipeline "as a gateway to Morocco," says "El Economista." And the online site "Merca2" reports: RWE is securing for the Alawite royal family a "luxury that European citizens cannot enjoy."
The tune has been set for the energy ministers' meeting in Brussels this Tuesday. The EU wants to discuss and vote on a gas emergency plan. The plan calls for each EU state to save 15 percent of the average gas consumption of previous years - and to be obliged to do so.
The plan requires approval from 15 EU states, which in turn represent 65 percent of the EU population. But a majority is not certain. And suddenly RWE finds itself back in the middle of the debate about European energy sovereignty, solidarity among member states and the governments' austerity measures against a cold winter.
RWE's gas supply to Morocco is a consequence of the conflict between Morocco and Algeria over territorial claims in Western Sahara, which has been simmering for years.
Last year, the dispute led to Algeria suspending its gas supplies to Morocco. Morocco therefore was forced to look for new procurement channels. Morocco's government has apparently ordered liquefied natural gas from the USA from RWE. Since Morocco does not have an LNG terminal itself, it has the LNG re-gasified in Spain and transported via pipeline.
But wouldn't the natural gas be better off on the European continent? Russia has just further reduced its gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. In the meantime, only 20 percent of the usual volume is flowing through the pipe.
To avoid a cold winter, Germany is not the only country forced to save - and to tap all possible sources to fill its gas storage facilities until fall and winter.
The filling level of gas storage facilities in the EU currently averages around 66 percent. In countries like Germany, Italy and Croatia, the situation is considered particularly delicate.
Additional gas - from wherever - would help the countries. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen therefore appealed: it is important "that all member states curb demand, that all store more and share with those members that are more affected." Energy solidarity is a fundamental principle of the European treaties, she said.
But the EU should hardly expect too much solidarity. Spanish Environment Minister Teresa Ribera already made it clear that her country was not prepared to call on industry and households to save gas as announced by the EU Commission.
The country is already exporting 20 percent of its imported gas to Europe. That should be enough. RWE explained that hardly any more natural gas could be pumped from Spain to Central Europe. There is only "one very small" pipeline from Spain to France - and it is "fully utilized."
According to RWE, LNG gas from the U.S. that currently lands at the seven LNG terminals in Spain and Portugal, therefore it is hardly usable as an extra volume for gas storage in Europe. The other LNG terminals in Europe are "working at their capacity limits."
In other words, the additional LNG gas arriving on the Iberian Peninsula is primarily suitable for the company's own consumption - or for export to Morocco. The energy company does not want to comment on the specific deal with Morocco. RWE does not comment on individual contracts.