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Analyst: Macron's Energy Optimism is Unfounded & Gas-Rich Algeria Can't Help France

© AP Photo / Ludovic MarinFrench President Emmanuel Macron arrives to give a press conference at Corsica's prefecture in Ajaccio, Corsica island, Thursday Sept.10, 2020
French President Emmanuel Macron arrives to give a press conference at Corsica's prefecture in Ajaccio, Corsica island, Thursday Sept.10, 2020 - Sputnik International, 1920, 27.08.2022
French President Emmanuel Macron embarked on a three-day charm offensive against the Algerian leadership on Thursday after months of tension. The French president asserted to reporters that natural gas is not at the top of the tour’s agenda.
Emmanuel Macron has called for a "new pact" with Algeria after Paris' relations with the North African country soured last year. Last September, the French president questioned Algeria's existence as a nation prior to the French colonial occupation and accused Algiers of inciting "hatred towards France".
Some international observers have concluded that Macron is testing the waters for new energy contracts with Algeria during his visit, at the time when gas prices in Europe crossed the mark of $3,500 per thousand cubic meters. Macron rejected this assumption on August 26 by saying that France's gas supplies account for about 20% of the country’s total energy balance, with Algeria's share in gas supplies to France amounting to a mere 8-9%.
However, Macron's optimism doesn't reflect the reality when it comes to France's energy security, according to Dr. Farid Benyahia, Algerian political scientist and expert on geopolitical, economic and energy issues.
"The energy security problems in France, and in Europe as a whole, did not begin with the start of the Russian special operation in Ukraine and the subsequent drop in gas and oil supplies, but long before that," stressed Dr. Benyahia. "Soaring energy prices in Europe were primarily caused by the high cost of the [green] energy transition as well as the recovery of the global economy after the Covid-19 crisis."
The Ukraine crisis and sweeping western sanctions gave an additional boost to already soaring gas prices, exacerbating matters further, according to the analyst. Skyrocketing inflation, fears of recession and concerns over the future of the Old Continent's economy pushed the euro to a record low against the dollar this week.
Since the beginning of the Russian special operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine, the US and its NATO allies have introduced several packages of sanctions against Russia. Following in the US and UK's footsteps, the EU vowed to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels before 2030. In April, Brussels laid out targets to slash its demand for Russian natural gas by two-thirds by the end of 2022.
Worker speaks to the control room at the new Port Harcourt refinery built in 1989 at the same site where the first refinery in Nigeria was built in 1965 in oil rich Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on September 16, 2015 - Sputnik International, 1920, 11.07.2022
Prof: Russian Gas is Irreplaceable, But If EU Wants More African Fuel It Should Invest First
If the EU abandons Russian energy, power outages may be quite possible in Europe, including in France, said Dr. Benyahia.
Currently, France's energy balance does remain largely nuclear, but due to the lack of coherent policies and sufficient investment, this energy is in decline, the analyst emphasized. If Macron intends to pursue his reindustrialization policy, "the growth in electricity consumption could reach 90%," he noted, warning that "most French reactors will reach the end of their lifecycle by 2040."
The French nuclear company EDF has a €43 billion ($42.8 billion) net financial debt at a time when it must invest in maintaining its reactors. As such, "it will be difficult for Emmanuel Macron to find alternatives to gas, oil and Russian coal," argued Benyahia.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg suggests that even if Macron sought to strike a deal with Algiers for additional gas supplies, he would most likely face a refusal, as the North African country does not possess excess supply to offer France.
"Even if Macron manages to make amends during his visit, Algeria’s state-run energy company, lacking investment, says it doesn’t have the capacity to provide more to France in the short term," Bloomberg noted.
French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the press after visiting the European St-Eugene Cemetery in Algiers, Algeria, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022 - Sputnik International, 1920, 26.08.2022
Macron’s Visit to Algeria: French President Has ‘Few Things to Offer’, Security Expert Says
Earlier this summer, Rome concluded an agreement with the Algerian state energy company Sonatrach Group for the delivery of an extra four billion cubic meters of gas. Since the start of 2022, Algeria has provided Italy with 13.9 billion cubic meters of gas, which is 113% more than was initially reserved for Rome, according to Sonatrach.
On Friday, Macron dismissed suggestions that Italy and France were "in competition" for Algerian gas. According to him, Algeria has helped Europe diversify its energy supplies by pumping more gas to Italy.
Following the French-Algerian row in September 2021, which resulted in the banning of French military aircraft from Algeria's airspace, the North African country has turned increasingly to Turkey, China and Russia for commercial deals, and to Italy for energy agreements, Bloomberg remarks. According to the media outlet, the best Macron can hope for is to try to mend fences with Algiers.
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