German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has confirmed that Germany and Italy are pushing ahead with plans to build a pipeline to transport fossil gas and hydrogen between the two countries.

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The news follows the signing by Germany, Italy and Austria last month of a letter of political support for the so-called SoutH2 hydrogen pipeline from Tunisia to Germany, via Italy and Austria, an initiative of four gas network operators.

"Strengthened cooperation on diversifying energy supply is very important for me. Expanding supply networks in Europe will benefit us all and certainly increase energy security," Scholz said on Thursday at a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

“For that reason I am pleased that we have agreed to press on with the work on a new natural gas and hydrogen pipeline between Italy and Germany.”

In spite of European plans to wean itself off Russian gas, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU is still importing it — via Turkey and, perversely, Ukraine — albeit at much lower levels than before the war.

While the import of fossil gas may be the primary short-term interest for building the planned pipeline from North Africa, the European Commission no longer approves transnational fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, but it does allow them — and offers financial support — to gas projects that can later be switched to clean hydrogen.

The four gas network operators in the SoutH2 scheme —Italy’s Snam, Germany’s Bayernets, Trans Austria and Gas Connect Austria, have all requested that the sections of the pipeline for which they will be responsible are allocated the status of a Project of Common Interest (PCI) by the European Commission — which will allow them to receive EU funding and accelerated permitting.

SoutH2, if fully constructed, would import four million tonnes of hydrogen from North Africa a year, from 2030. More than 70% of the pipelines involved would be repurposed gas pipes.

The EU aims to import ten million tonnes of green hydrogen annually from outside the EU by 2030.

“On the energy front we agree that it is very important to ensure the diversification of our supply sources and to work on connecting infrastructures, particularly in the Mediterranean,” said Meloni, who wants Italy to become an energy hub that connects Africa to Europe.