Europe is preparing for a harsh winter. The war in Ukraine has accentuated a serious energy crisis that began at the end of 2021 and has caused a significant increase in fuel prices worldwide. However, the situation on the Old Continent is particularly complicated as the sanctions imposed on Russia for the invasion have caused President Vladimir Putin to turn off the gas tap to the continent on the eve of autumn.
Against this backdrop, European countries are trying to find alternatives to Russian gas. Qatar, Azerbaijan and Norway are some of the nations that have emerged as possible new gas suppliers to the continent. Likewise, and with the aim of seeking new energy allies, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, has travelled to Algeria, a country with large gas reserves.
As Michel announced on his Twitter account, this visit was aimed at "strengthening cooperation with the European Union". "Regional stability and security, energy, trade and prosperity are our common objectives," he added.
During his trip to Algiers, the European leader met with Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune and Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra. After one of the meetings, Michel said that Algeria was a "loyal and reliable" energy partner for the EU.
Before Michel, another European leader travelled to Algeria with an eye on gas. In July, former Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi agreed a $4 billion gas deal with Algiers after several previous visits to the country.
Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron also visited Algiers. Although this trip was aimed at repairing ties between the two countries, gas also played a key role. The French president thanked the North African country for increasing gas supplies through the Italian Transmed pipeline, an aspect that, in Macron's words, "is a question of European solidarity".
Despite the fact that many European countries are betting on Algeria, some analysts question Algeria's commitment in this regard due to "technical and political" reasons, according to a report by the Middle East Economic Survey published by Al-Arab. According to the document, total Algerian natural gas exports fell by 18% during the first half of 2022.
In addition, the Arab newspaper recalls the breakdown of the Medgaz pipeline in July. A problem which, according to Al-Arab, is due to "poor maintenance and obsolete equipment". This pipeline supplies gas to Spain, a country with which Algeria is currently engaged in a diplomatic crisis.
Shortly after the government of Pedro Sánchez endorsed Morocco's plan for Western Sahara, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Madrid for consultations, froze the Treaty of Friendship, Good Neighbourliness and Cooperation with Spain and threatened to raise the price of gas.
For this reason, many experts fear that Tebboune's government will use gas to exert political pressure on Europe, something that Russia used to do. As Dalia Ghanem, an analyst at the European Union's Institute for Security Studies, told Al-Arab, Algeria "intends to strengthen its role in the region to become a leading country in Africa", especially to "defend its position against Morocco
On the other hand, Algeria is Russia's main ally in the region, making it "illogical" to depend on Algiers for energy, experts tell Al-Arab. Algiers and Moscow have had a close relationship for decades. The invasion of Ukraine has not dampened these strong ties. Indeed, since the war began, the Algerian army has participated in Russian military exercises, Algeria's chief of staff, Said Chengriha, has taken part in a conference on international security organised by Moscow, and the Tebboune government has hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.