The prsident of Algieria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune. / EFE

Pied Piper

The standoff between Algeria and Spain maybe finally easing

MARK NAYLER

There were some deceptively encouraging signs this week that the diplomatic standoff between Algeria and Spain is finally easing.

After suspending banking operations with Spain at the beginning of June, in retaliation for the latter's ham-fisted reversal of neutrality over Western Sahara, Algeria has now restored them. But it'll take more than functioning direct debits to repair relations between the two countries.

Algeria has yet to restore a twenty-year-old friendship treaty with Spain, also withdrawn in June over the Western Sahara dispute, and imports of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from the north African country have dropped sharply.

According to Enagas, the manager of Spain's gas network, supplies from Algeria were down 57.3% in June this year compared to the same month in 2021. Once Spain's primary importer of LNG, Algeria now comes third, with the USA in the number one spot. More on who's between them shortly.

When the EU tried to force member states to reduce gas usage by 15% (as I wrote here last week), Spain trumpeted its comparatively small reliance on Russia and said it would tolerate no such decrees. "The response [to EU-wide energy shortages] cannot rely on imposing unfair sacrifices," said Teresa Ribera, minister for ecological transition. The implication was clear: energy rationing perhaps applicable to countries more reliant on Russia for LNG has no place in Spain.

This week, though, Ribera unveiled new energy consumption rules for businesses, requiring them to limit their usage of air conditioning and heating and turn off lights at night.

Instead of lamenting "unfair sacrifices", she adopted a somewhat different line in announcing the restrictions: Spain, said Ribera, was simply showing "unity and solidarity" with the EU Commission. Yet again, you're left wondering which of two almost-contradictory positions the government believes in.

When you look harder at the relevant statistics, the extent to which Russia is feeding Spain LNG also seems up for debate. According to Enagas, supplies from Moscow quadrupled in the first six months of this year, compared to the same period in 2021. In other words, while busy invading Ukraine, Russia has become Spain's second-largest supplier of LNG, behind the USA and ahead of de-friended Algeria.

Imagine you're at a cabinet briefing with Pedro Sánchez at the head of the table. This is what you're told by the mercurial Socialist leader: relations are both incredibly strained and back to normal with Algeria. Spain does and doesn't rely heavily on Russia for natural gas. Oh and before you go: we absolutely oppose the EU's attempts to ration gas - but there, in the document before you, are details of the decree we've just passed to enforce its gas-rationing targets. Now get to work!