The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani, has concluded his official visit to Spain by announcing an investment of 4.72 billion euros (5 billion dollars) in the Iberian country. This decision, according to Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, demonstrates Doha's confidence in the strength of the Spanish economy. "It is undoubtedly a great gesture of confidence not only in the Spanish economy but also in Spanish companies," he stressed.
The Qatari sheikh and the Spanish government have also sealed "a strategic union" through the signing of 12 agreements and memorandums of understanding in the areas of economy, trade, education, military and judicial cooperation, health, science and innovation. This partnership is likely to continue and grow in the future. As Abdalla Al-Hamar, Qatar's ambassador to Spain, told 20minutos, Doha wishes to "continue strengthening ties". "Qatar considers Spain a friendly and close country, and we are sure that we will see even more cooperation over the years," Al-Hamar added.
Moreover, according to EFE, both countries are also committed to respecting human rights and prohibiting the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state. In this sense, Sánchez and Al Thani have expressed their solidarity with Ukraine in the face of Russia's invasion.
Gracias al Emir de Qatar, @TamimBinHamad, por su visita de Estado a España. Hoy impulsamos una nueva asociación estratégica con una Declaración Conjunta y diversos acuerdos. Un marco de diálogo estructurado sobre la agenda común de ambos países en asuntos regionales y globales. pic.twitter.com/eRGkA3Ml5V— Pedro Sánchez (@sanchezcastejon) May 18, 2022
The Spanish Royal Court warmly welcomed Sheikh Al Thani and his wife, Sheikha Jawaher bint Hamad bin Suhaim Al Thani, to the country, including military honours. For Madrid, this visit has a special relevance in terms of energy. Qatar is one of the countries with the largest gas reserves in the world and since the invasion of Ukraine it has positioned itself as a viable alternative to Russian gas.
In addition to the current problems with Russia, Spain's situation is marked by uncertainty over gas supplies from Algeria, its main supplier. Since Madrid changed its position on Western Sahara, recognising the Moroccan autonomy plan as the most serious and credible proposal, Spanish-Algerian relations have deteriorated markedly.
In retaliation for this political shift, Algiers withdrew its ambassador from Madrid, calling the Spanish government's decision a "betrayal". Since then, concerns over gas supplies have soared. Algeria raised tensions at the end of April by threatening to revoke the energy contract if Spain sends its gas to a point "whose destination is not foreseen", alluding to Morocco, a country with which it cut diplomatic ties in August and with which it has a strong political dispute. Madrid again held its breath at the beginning of the month, when the Enagás company warned that Algerian gas supplies had fallen by 25%.
Emir Al Thani's trip to Madrid is a respite for the country, which sees Doha as a new energy ally in the midst of the crisis with Algiers. The Gulf state is currently Spain's fifth largest gas supplier, behind only the United States, Algeria, Nigeria and Egypt.
Analysts quoted by Al Arab suggest that this visit could provide Spain with "an effective and credible alternative" at the present time. However, experts also point out that Qatar's move "represents a provocation for Algeria", Doha's regional ally. "Interests are not usually subject to political alliances", they point out.
Spain also sees this partnership as an opportunity to use its liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals, which would allow it to consolidate its position as an important storage point for other countries on the continent seeking to reduce their dependence on Russia. However, Spain still lacks the necessary infrastructure to re-export gas to northern Europe for this purpose.
For these reasons, Sheikh Al Thani's visit to Spain takes on special significance. Madrid has received the Qatari Emir with its sights set on energy, the great priority and, at the same time, the great challenge currently facing Europe. Therefore, the Iberian nation is not the only one that sees Doha as a great strategic ally in this matter. Other European states such as Germany and Poland are strengthening their relations with the Gulf country in order to increase energy cooperation. Warsaw has been pursuing this goal for years through agreements focused on LNG, while Berlin has begun to draw closer to Qatar since Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
However, since the invasion of Ukraine began, analysts have questioned whether Qatari gas can replace Russian gas. Even the Qatari authorities have acknowledged that "no country can replace" the volume offered by Russia.
Most gas supplies are sent to Asian countries where Doha already has agreements that it cannot suspend. This point concerns not only Europe in its efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian gas, but also Spain in its crisis with Algeria.
Japan, South Korea and India account for 75% of Qatar's gas exports, according to 2020 figures from Qatar's national statistics authority (PSA). Therefore, as several experts have warned Al-Arabiya News, the volumes of LNG that some Qatari companies might send to Europe would be too small to make much of a difference.