The EU is undertaking a massive effort to relocate energy production and some heavier industry to the bloc’s periphery. It’s being done partly out of necessity after Brussels decided it no longer wanted Russian energy, but it is also part of the EU vision to keep the “garden” clean. The Balkans is one area the European elite have designated as a sacrifice zone; another they are relying on is North Africa.
The EU has set its sights on North Africa for a variety of reasons, a few of which are summed up here by the European Council on Foreign Relations:
North Africa is also a promising place for the future production of green hydrogen, an energy source that is likely to be essential for the EU to fulfil its climate goals in hard-to-decarbonise sectors. And the region is also home to critical raw materials (CRMs) necessary for the energy transition, offering the EU the opportunity to further diversify its supply chains for clean energy technologies. North Africa’s young and well-educated workforce also offers the EU not only a potential workforce for technology manufacturing closer to home than Asian markets, but also the skills necessary for meaningful cooperation in areas such as research and development (R&D).
Yet while there are numerous projects underway to send “clean” energy to Europe, North Africa looks like it will get stuck continuing to rely on oil, gas, and coal while also using up precious water resources for solar farms that will send electricity to the EU.
Italy and Algeria are working on laying an undersea electrical cable connecting the two countries. The plan is for the north African country to send green hydrogen and electricity to Italy, which will also transfer amounts on to northern Europe.
Obviously the benefit for the EU of electrical cables is that the pollution that comes with burning the natural gas all occurs in Algeria, which is currently Africa’s largest oil and gas producer.
Additionally, Italy’s industrial lobby group Confindustria pledged more activity in Algeria, and the Italian Space Agency agreed to share knowledge and develop joint projects. The Confindustria agreement could mean more Italian industrial production taking place across the Mediterranean. The Fiat brand of Italian automaker Stellantis is already getting auto and motorcycle production up and running in Algeria.
Even with increased shipments of LNG and more gas from Algeria, Italy has not been able to make up the shortfall caused by the EU’s decision to turn away from Russian gas. Manufacturing activity has contracted, and firms have self-rationed despite Rome throwing more than 100 billion euros at the problem. More Italian manufacturing, including more automotive industry, shipbuilding, helicopters, and more could now be moving to Algeria, which has an abundance of energy and much lower wages. The North African country is also increasingly becoming a supplier of long product steel to Europe following the sanctions on Russia and Belarus.
Tunisia is developing two large solar fields that will send power to Malta and Italy. Funded by the EU, the $325 million 600MW electricity transmission line connects Italy and Tunisia. In Egypt, the Benban solar park was completed in 2019 and was supposed to reduce the country’s reliance on polluting fossil fuels. Instead the electricity will now be sent to Europe. It will be joined by another 200-megawatt solar park, partly funded by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
The electricity will be sent to Europe via a 3,000 MW undersea cable. The 3.5 billion euro project has been categorized a “Project of Common Interest” by the EU and The EU has also stated that the Global Gateway forms part of its wider efforts to support the green transition outside its borders.
But who exactly is benefitting from the projects? While the North African countries divert the green energy to the garden in the north, they’re stuck burning fossil fuels for domestic needs.
Tunisia currently relies mostly on natural gas and oil for its domestic energy consumption, the large majority of it coming from Algeria. And while Egypt sends energy north, its current sources remain more than 80 percent oil and natural gas (and 18 percent hydro).
Morocco is the foremost country in North Africa supplying electricity and critical minerals to Europe – but it’s also stomping all over international law in order to do so.
Rabat is increasingly extracting resources and erecting wind and solar farms beyond its southern border in Western Sahara despite the territory not being internationally recognized as part of Morocco. More from Yale Environment 360:
Morocco has already installed three large wind farms and two solar farms in Western Sahara, all hooked up to the Moroccan grid. The largest wind farm, comprising 56 giant turbines erected onshore by a Scottish company close to the coastal fishing village of Aftissat, is now to be doubled in size to more than 400 megawatts, following an agreement signed in 2021 by Morocco with a subsidiary of General Electric.
Washington is now joined in its support of Morocco by other European countries such as Germany and Spain. The backing for Rabat comes despite UN legal counsel that exploiting the region’s region’s natural resources “in disregard of the interests and wishes of the people of Western Sahara would be in violation of the principles of international law”.
Most of the critical minerals Morocco mines are located in Western Sahara.
Rabat has been negotiating with European electric vehicle battery manufacturers to set up a plant in the country, aiming to exploit these illegally obtained cobalt and phosphate resources. From Morocco World News:
In June, Morocco’s mining group Managem agreed to supply 5,000 tonnes of cobalt sulfate annually to French automotive giant Renault in a bid to reduce the company’s emissions and generate an annual battery production capacity of up to 15 gigawatt-hour (GWh) between 2025 and 2032.
As exploration operations persist in Morocco and the global demand for critical raw materials is expected to soar, Morocco is likely to increase its production of these natural resources to meet shortages faced by manufacturers in Europe.
Citroen plans to double its production capacity Morocco within two years from 50,000 supermini electric cars. Morocco is home to production plants of Renault and Citroen parent company Stellantis with a current combined production capacity of 700,000. Plans are in the works to increase that number to one million. According to Reuters, Morocco’s automotive manufacturers and part makers were the country’s top exporters over the past seven years surpassing phosphate sales.
The EU intends to push ahead with such “cost-effective” arrangements. More on that thought process from the European Council on Foreign Relations:
The European Green Deal aims to scale up the commercial application of breakthrough clean technology innovation. By diversifying supply chains in this sector, the EU hopes to reduce its reliance on the dominant players, including the United States and China. North Africa’s skilled labour force gives countries there the potential to become important partners in this endeavour. Europeans should seek to build secure, cost-effective, ethical, and sustainable supply chains for transition-related technologies under a common umbrella framework. Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation programme, could also be an important instrument to support R&D in North Africa. It contains a focus on climate change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and offers a separate funding stream for research and innovation.
Like Egypt’s Benban solar farms, Morocco’s sprawling Noor installation is one of the largest in the world and was supposed to reduce the country’s reliance on coal. It will instead send the energy to Europe, while the majority of Morocco’s energy continues to come from burning imported coal.
Rabat and London are also getting set to construct the world’s largest subsea power cable to deliver renewable energy from Morocco to Devon in the southwest of the United Kingdom.
Additionally, both Egypt and Morocco are also planning to manufacture “green” hydrogen and ammonia, made with “renewable” power, for export to Europe. These plans don’t come without major environmental and social consequences for North African countries.
The massive scale of the projects, which are oftentimes hundreds of square miles mean desert ecosystems are be destroyed, and nomadic tribes are losing their livelihoods as the projects also monopolize scarce water resources.
Due to local resentment and the huge international investments, the areas around the energy installations also typically become militarized complete with surveillance towers to guard the infrastructure and the water. More from Yale Environment 360:
Atman Aoui, president of the Moroccan Association for Mediation, an NGO, sees large renewable projects such as the Noor solar park as part of a wider attempt to take control of desert regions that have previously been the domain of tribal groups. The sheer scale of the projects is “challenging assumptions that a low-carbon energy transition is inherently progressive,” he says.
Noting the scheme’s use of large amounts of water, he adds, “The irony that a project intended to mitigate climate change is only worsening the effects of climate change in one of Morocco’s poorest and most water-stressed regions is not lost on residents.”
That’s apparently just life in the jungle.