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In the middle of Qatargate, an emirate in a position of strength with its natural gas


Qatar appeared to threaten European countries with reprisals on Sunday after MEPs adopted measures linked to the corruption scandal in parliament. But given the need for...

Qatar deplored, Sunday, December 18, "the negative effect" of the measures taken by the European Parliament against it after the revelation of "Qatargate".

MEPs voted almost unanimously on Thursday for a text in which they "urge the suspension of access permits for representatives of Qatari interests" to the European Parliament, while the investigation is ongoing.

The body also decided to suspend all legislative work concerning the emirate.

The measure follows the outbreak of a corruption scandal involving a vice-president of the European Parliament, Eva Kaili, and her companion.

They reportedly accepted bribes in exchange for defending Qatar's interests.

"The decision to impose such a discriminatory restriction on Qatar, limiting dialogue and cooperation before the end of the legal proceedings, will have a negative effect on regional and global security cooperation, as well as on the ongoing discussions on global energy scarcity and security," Qatar said in a statement.

A barely veiled threat, while the countries of the European Union depend more than ever on the small Gulf state for their gas supplies, after the almost total cessation of Russian exports, against a backdrop of war in Ukraine. 

Qatar, a major LNG producer

To replace the annual 167 billion cubic meters of Russian gas, Europe is relying on imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Qatar is one of the main producers of this natural gas made liquid after being cooled to -160 degrees, and transported by boat.

European imports of LNG have thus increased by 58% since the start of the war, according to the Independent Commodity Intelligence Service.

And Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and France, the biggest gas consumers in the EU according to Eurostat, are developing their infrastructure to receive more. 

However, Qatar is, with the United States, the only country in the world to be able to increase its production to meet growing demand at the global level, unlike North Africa, one of the traditional suppliers of 'European Union.

"Qatar's share of European gas imports is increasing very rapidly, observes Sami Ramdani, lecturer-researcher at the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris). He is one of the only players that the European Union can use to compensate for Russian supplies, and will become even more essential in the years to come." 

Qatar and Germany, a long-term contract

At the end of November, Qatar thus concluded a 15-year contract with Germany to send two million tonnes of LNG per year across the Rhine, or 2.7 billion cubic meters, from 2026.

A drop of water, which barely covers 3% of Germany's annual consumption, but is a landmark: it is the first time that a long-term contract has been concluded by a European country with Qatar.

The emirate has also announced that it wishes to increase its production by more than 60% to reach 110 million tonnes by 2027.

In such a situation of dependence, the tensions linked to Qatargate should therefore fizzle out.

“The balance of power exists if we make it exist, remarks Emma Soubrier, director of the PRISME Initiative and associate researcher at the Institute for Peace and Development in Nice as well as at the World Peace Foundation. Qatar has an interest in doing so. In this affair, Qatar basically told the European Union "you are bluffing". corruption. Qatar's reaction is therefore to send the ball back to the European camp, stressing in passing that it does not have the means to match its ambitions. It is a way of saying 'let's not mix everything, since you you need us far too much on certain files to allow you to mix everything up'." 


And this, especially since the negotiations for the gas agreements are the responsibility of the Member States and not of the European Union as such.

The measures taken by European parliamentarians should therefore have little impact on gas supply contracts.

"I do not think that a balance of power is being built, analyzes Sami Ramdani. The two issues will remain well separated, Qatar will not put the gas in the balance and the Member States will not take over too noisily from the scandal in the European Parliament. Questions of gas supply are never overtaken by questions of morality." 

As a mark of this pragmatism, Robert Habeck, the German Minister of Economy, declared that Qatargate should be dissociated from the question of energy supplies.

An ironic situation, because, as Sami Ramdani recalls, he was the first to condemn the conciliatory policy led by Angela Merkel vis-à-vis Russia to secure the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. 

Poisoned long-term contracts

But beyond the corruption scandal, other issues more related to gas are likely to arise in the European Union.

The Member States are indeed, for the moment, linked to Qatar for the most part by "spot contracts", short-term agreements.

But the situation is likely to change: the supply of gas indeed requires heavy investment, which is generally secured by the conclusion of long-term agreements. 

The conclusion of these contracts is likely to pose a problem for European countries, notes Sami Ramdani.

"European suppliers are afraid to commit to natural gas for the long term because of the climate objectives that the Member States have set themselves. By aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050, it is difficult to commit on a 20-year fossil fuel production contract. They are stuck between the need to secure their gas supplies and their climate commitments." 

Unbalanced balance of power

And the balance of power is not on their side: the Qataris can indeed bring into play the competition between the various gas-purchasing countries, in particular Asia.

China has just signed a 27-year supply contract.

If the European market is one of the most lucrative for gas sellers, prices having exploded with the war in Ukraine, Qatar is therefore in a position of strength and could succeed in pushing the Europeans to accept the signing of long term.

At the risk of alienating public opinion, and putting a hell of a knife in the climate objectives... 

TotalEnergies has signed a $1.5 billion agreement with Qatar to develop the largest natural gas field in the world, North Field South and North Field East, located off Iran.

The CEO of the French energy supplier, Patrick Pouyanné, and the Qatari Minister for Energy and CEO of Qatar Energy, Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, took advantage of the announcement of the signature, in September, to underline the importance of long-term contracts.

A point of view shared by Germany, which inaugurated its first liquefied gas terminal on Saturday.

>> To read: "The oil and gas majors will continue to collect the money while the world burns"

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Source: france24

All news articles on 2022-12-19

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