As Germany plans a total cut in Russian gas supplies and prepares for a shortage that could have dramatic consequences for its economy, the question is no longer whether France will deliver gas to Germany, but knowing when and in what quantity.

“We believe Germany will ask for a change in the direction of the flow of gas deliveries. There is a question of solidarity. If we are in a good position, we can afford to send gas to support our German neighbors. The question is when and in what quantity ”, we confirm to the Ministry of Energy Transition. On Saturday, on the sidelines of the Aix-en-Provence Economic Meetings, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne had already indicated that France should provide a small part of its gas to Germany.

Historically, gas flows in Europe have always transited from East to West, through three gas pipelines: Nord Stream 1 (which directly connects Russia to Germany), Yamal-Europe (which connects Russia to Germany, passing through Belarus and Poland) and Brotherhood (which passes through Ukraine in particular).

Reconfiguration of European gas flows

From now on, these east-west flows are very weak. In fact, in the context of the strong tensions between Russia and Western countries linked to the war in Ukraine, the Russian giant Gazprom has stopped delivering gas pipelines to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland and reduced deliveries to France, Germany, Italy, Austria by 40%. Czech Republic and Slovakia. As a result, Russian gas deliveries are now half of those in 2021 at the same time. Worse still, while Russia completely shut down the Nord Stream 1 operation on Monday 11 July for a long-planned maintenance operation, the Twenty-Seven are preparing for the pipeline’s failure to restart.

In a few weeks the flows should therefore reverse to transit from West to East. Which is unprecedented. We are heading towards “a reconfiguration of European gas flows in which France and Spain become the gateway to gas, where they previously received it”we explain in Agnès Pannier-Runacher’s cabinet.

In fact, France and Spain are the two member countries of the European Union best equipped with gas terminals that allow the regasification and storage of liquefied natural gas (LNG) transported by sea. However, to get rid of their dependence on Russian gas as soon as possible, the Twenty-seven turned massively to LNG, particularly imported from the United States. Spain has six while France has four inland terminals (one in Dunkirk, another in Montoir-de-Bretagne and two in Fos-sur-mer) and is preparing to build a fifth floating one in the port of Haven.

Solve the odor problem

“Sending gas from France to Germany, however, means answering the regulatory and technical question of odorization”, underlines Alexandre Martin, head of forecasts and strategic regulation of Teréga, one of the two operators of the gas network in France.

“In fact, gas in France is smelled at the carrier level, which is not the case in Germany. There is therefore a difference in the quality of gas at the level of the transport networks. When we send gas from Germany to France, we add product to smell it. In the opposite direction, it must be able to deodorize it. Deodorization stations exist so it is not feasible, but we must be vigilant “He explains.

Today the French government does not communicate on the volumes of gas that could be sent to Germany and possibly to other Eastern countries. However, these volumes are expected to be relatively limited due to purely physical factors but also due to the level of French gas storage, linked to the LNG import rate.

Limited volumes

If there were a shortage in the global LNG market, France would not be able to fully play the game of European solidarity, those around Agnès Pannier-Runacher warned on June 23. “If we don’t have enough gas entering our LNG terminals, it will lower the pressure [dans le réseau de transport gazier du pays, ndlr]. We will therefore have to reduce our export capacity to other countries to maintain the pressure in France. There will not be a minimum of solidarity, but the intensity of sending gas to the East [notamment vers l’Allemagne, la Belgique, l’Italie et la Suisse ndlr] it will depend on the level of LNG imports “he then detailed the members of the Ministry of Energy Transition.

“The goal is to support our German neighbors, while preserving our security of energy supply”, specifies the company of Agnès Pannier-Runacher.

France is certainly less exposed than Germany to Russian gas (its annual gas consumption is around 480 terawatt hours (TWh), compared to around 920 (TWh) in Germany and 17% of our gas imports came from Russia before beginning of the war, against 55% of Germany), but also France has to endure a historically low nuclear production (today 27 reactors out of 56 of the tricolor fleet are not available) and could therefore need more gas to produce this electricity. winter.

Today, the storage level in France is 65%. A higher level than last year at the same time. The government expects the underground storage capacities to be filled to 100% by the end of the summer. It therefore intends to go beyond the obligation under French law, which requires suppliers to fill their reserves to at least 85% of their capacity on 1 November. On a European scale, Member States have recently agreed to replenish their underground gas reserves to “at least 80%” of their capacity, again by 1 November.

Organizing European solidarity

“When Germany asks to set up these flows, we will do it, but in a concerted way”we specify again within the Ministry of Energy Transition.

This coordinated response is not yet defined. This is precisely the subject of intense work with the European Commission, which is expected to present an emergency plan on 20 July. In fact, in the event of a gas shortage, the agreement concluded between the Europeans does not specify under which rules the Member States will be able to draw on their reserves. However, Brussels must ensure that the Twenty-Seven do not attract gas reserves in a disorderly fashion, so that no country is harmed. Some members of the European Parliament are calling for the establishment of binding rules.

A European regulation on security of gas supply, dating back to 2017, already provides for a solidarity mechanism between Member States. This forces a state to reduce its local supply to help a country with which it is connected, if this troubled country is unable to supply gas. “a protected customer”.

Put simply, this means that France may have to forgo providing an industrial site in order to supply gas to a German hospital.

“But this mechanism was put in place for an emergency and very temporary situation, and not for a prolonged situation like the one we could experience this winter”points out Phuc-Vinh Nguyen, researcher on European energy policies at the Jacques Delors Institute.

So far this mechanism has never been implemented, we stress to Teréga.

Avoid the recession

However, even in the absence of binding European solidarity rules, France has every interest in helping Germany by supplying it with gas. Indeed, the German industry, especially the chemical industry, consumes a lot of gas. If it were to be closed due to the imposed rationing, it would plunge Germany into recession.

“Also in this case, France will not escape a decline in its GDP, because Germany is the largest market in France and vice versa”, underlines Patrice Geoffron, director of the geopolitical center of energy and raw materials of Paris-Dauphine.