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Interview

Domingo San Felipe – President, Franco-Spanish Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Spain

Domingo San Felipe, President of the Chambre Franco-Espagnole de Commerce et d’Industrie, discusses the unique role the Chamber plays in fostering dialogue between the two nations as well as the variety of services they offer to their members. He also shares his insights, given his more than 40 years working in the energy sector, on the current trends the industry is facing in Spain and across Europe.

As an introduction to our international readers, could you provide us with a brief overview of your more than four-decade long career working in the energy sector, as well as what brought you into your current position?

“The gas delivered to Europe cannot be considered in an isolated fashion, and we cannot so deeply depend, as we currently do, on just two sources”

At the start of my career I spent a period in the field of university education as an organic chemist and biochemist, after which I transitioned into working in the energy industry. My first position was with GULF here in Spain in 1975, and since that time I have held a variety of positions in the sector, always in big companies like Petrofina and ELF, and most recently as the head of the Total affiliate in the country. One of the responsibilities that I enjoyed the most at Total was working overseas, where I was responsible for a series of businesses. In this capacity, I worked in Africa, the Middle East, as well as the Caribbean and Pacific. I enjoyed this position immensely as I love to travel and meet new people, and along all my career I have travelled to more than 100 countries, which allowed me to see a tremendous variety of situations. In 2014, I left my responsibilities at Total, as it was the time to relax after 40 intense and passionate years.

Speaking more to my time at the Chamber, I first joined the board in 2006, and in 2011 I became President. One of the first decisions that I made was to amend the rules so that the President could not remain in office for more than two consecutive periods, each of which is three years, meaning that I will be leaving my post in July of this year.

What is the history of the Chamber in the country, and what are some of the highlights that the organization has experienced in recent years?

In 2014, we were approaching our 120-year anniversary, so I proposed to the board to celebrate, and we made the decision to do three things. First, we celebrated with a fantastic dinner where we awarded many different companies prizes. Secondly, we produced a book recounting the history of the Chamber, and lastly, we initiated a development plan in which we stated an objective of growing to a number of 1,000 associates in six years, opening nine local delegations in the country and reaching 60 collaboration agreements. It has been more than three years since we began this process, and we have achieved great success, reaching those nine delegations, close to 700 associates and initiating almost 40 collaboration agreements.

As the Chamber boasts a membership of close to 700 associates, representing a broad range of sectors, could you provide us with an overview of your membership base, as well as discuss some of the services that you provide to them?

Two thirds of our membership base are Spanish companies, one third are French and they represent a variety of areas including consultancies, law firms, banking, and energy companies, just to name a few. Additionally, this Chamber is part of the network of 113 French Chambers of Commerce and Industry across the globe. This means that when an associate of our Chamber wants to expand into a country, we can reach out to our affiliate there and assist them in this process. Additionally, we have developed an informal network of all European chambers that are here in Spain. Our intention with all of these relationships is to cultivate a wide list of services and contacts that we can offer to our members.

What role do you think the Chamber can play in increasing collaboration between Spain and France, both in the energy sector but also more broadly?

What we do is provide the opportunity for the energy officials in both Spain and France to be present and explain their ambitions in a series of meetings and discussions, and what is clear is that the relationship between the two countries is tremendous in nearly all regards. For example, in economic terms Spain is the second largest partner of France, right after Germany. We have a series of common issues, as well as common visions, and we need to address them together.

One of the key issues currently in the energy sector is the lack of interconnections between Spain and France. Is one country in particular to blame, or is this a broader issue that all of Europe needs to address?

I believe that if someone thinks that the issue is just one country they are completely blind to the reality of the situation, as this is an issue that effects the whole of Europe. The gas delivered to Europe cannot be considered in an isolated fashion, and we cannot so deeply depend, as we currently do, on just two sources. Europe must develop the maximum independence in terms of energy. It is clear that France is in a good position today due to their decision to embrace nuclear energy, they have one of the cheapest energy costs in Europe, and they have an intelligent way of marketing this energy. This gives them a competitive advantage, as in other countries the issue they are facing are high costs of energy. Regardless of these facts, it is still clear that as a continent, we cannot be so dependent as we are nowadays. We have to consider that in the Iberian Peninsula alone we have eight regasification units for LNG, one in Portugal and seven in Spain, and we have a gas pipeline network that is fantastic as well as extensive expertise. This represents a great opportunity for all of Europe! What we need to do is buying from a big variety of suppliers, as this is the only way that we can be certain that we have security of supply, and it does not matter from which country. This is a key issue, not only for Spain or France but for all of Europe.

Additionally, in Spain and across the entire continent, we need to look for new and green energies. This will include of course clean energies such as nuclear, but also renewables as well as gas. To accomplish this, we need to invest in the right manner so the shift to these energies is logical and can be truly realized. Spain was not a good example of this in the past, as we shifted too drastically into renewables, which caused the country plunge into a EUR 30 billion (USD 33.5 billion) deficit, a situation absolutely unsustainable. However, excellent technologies in these fields have been developed. For example, at Total we have excellent solar panel technology, which is evident in the United Arab Emirates for example.

What do you think are the unique qualities that Spaniards bring to the table that allow them to be so successful, both domestically and internationally?

I believe that there are three particularly attractive qualities that Spaniards bring to the table. First their training, which is very good as we have a great educational system in the country. To add to this point, we are more and more seeing an emphasis put on practical education rather than theoretical, which is also beneficial. Secondly, Spaniards are determined people, they do not fear or hesitate to accomplish what they set their minds on accomplishing. Lastly, Spaniards have largely lost their land attachment, and this took time. What I mean by this is that, as people have such a “rich” life in Spain from for example, a weather, food and overall quality of life perspective, it was more of a difficult decision to expatriate themselves. That being said, we are now seeing Spaniards having very high positions in many countries, and this is because they have very open minds and they are able to adapt very easily to different situations.

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