European governments are entering the final stretch of the race against the clock as they compete against Putin for a winter of reliable energy security. This last quarter of 2022 is witnessing a strong prioritisation of energy diplomacy by EU executives, as evidenced by the upcoming visits of the Macron government's Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne to Algeria and this weekend's visit to the Middle East by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
From Berlin, the Social Democrat chancellor once again promised to control electricity and gas prices this winter. The nightmare of Scholz's government since he took office has been Germany's energy supply, which has been deeply dependent on Russia for decades. Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the German leader's poll ratings have plummeted, not least because of the links of several members of his team to the Russian government - links that the German government has worked to deny by firmly supporting Ukraine in the conflict, supplying major arms packages, including Gepard anti-aircraft systems among other weapons systems.
Putins Krieg stellt auch uns vor viele Herausforderungen: Hungersnöte verhindern, Energieversorgung sichern, die hohen Energiepreise abfedern und für #Entlastungen bei den Bürgerinnen, Bürgern und Unternehmen sorgen. All diese Aufgaben lösen wir gemeinsam. #KanzlerKompakt. pic.twitter.com/FFMMDhYDGB— Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz (@Bundeskanzler) September 24, 2022
"We want to ensure that electricity prices are brought down again by changing the market model. And we want to see to it that gas prices come down," Scholz said in a video published in the chancellery's media on Saturday. The German government has been juggling for months between sanctions against Russia and the search for new ways of obtaining gas supplies. Already earlier this summer, the Scholz government's energy minister, the Green Robert Habeck, travelled to Qatar to meet with his counterparts and reach agreements to increase the supply of non-liquefied gas to Germany. The Middle East solution seems more promising for now than the Medcat pipeline, which remains blocked by France despite the intention of Spain, Portugal and the European Commission to implement it.
Scholz has a busy weekend ahead of him with plans to visit the Arab Gulf states. According to information from Birgit Jennen for Bloomberg, citing sources in Scholz's cabinet, the German chancellor is all set to finalise the signing of several LNG and hydrogen supply deals during his tour.
The visit will take him to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, accompanied by a "high-level" business delegation, of which the German government has not provided many more details. According to the same Chancellery sources, Germany has been trying for months to reach a long-term agreement to open up supply channels with Saudi Arabia.
It was also revealed that negotiations with the United Arab Emirates are very close to concluding another hydrogen supply agreement to reduce dependence on Russia in the long term. If these prognoses come true, Scholz would keep his word and the Social Democratic leader could regain some of those points lost in the public eye behind closed doors.
Elizabeth Borne back in Algiers
From Paris, the Matignon hotel, the headquarters of Macron's prime minister, it was reported that Elizabeth Borne will travel with a large delegation to Algiers on 9 and 10 October. This is the fifth meeting between the French and Algerian governments since Macron's state visit in August.
This time, the Prime Minister will discuss the gas dossier, which is why she will travel in the company of senior officials from ENGIE, the public gas company, and will meet with delegates from Sonatrach, as well as the Prime Minister of Tebboune, Aïmane Benabderrahmane. The French government announced last week that significant progress would soon be made in negotiations to increase gas supplies to France from Algeria.
According to French channel Europe 1, Borne's visit to Algiers could lead to a 50 per cent increase in Algerian gas exports to France. According to French public data, the French energy mix is 20% dependent on gas. In this distribution, Algerian gas represents between 8% and 9% of the total, figures that could change if Europe 1's information is true.
If these new agreements are approved, France advocates transporting gas by sea, the same method that experts close to the Elysée recommend using instead of investing in the Mecat pipeline.