One of the top candidates looking to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel as leader of the Christian Democrats has waded into the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which will increase Germany’s dependence on Russian gas. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said withdrawing political support for the project would be “too radical.” Instead, she said, Germany should reduce the amount of gas flowing into the pipeline.
Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer’s comments have be a relief to industry, which has been lobbying hard for Nord Stream 2. But there is increasing cross-party opposition to the pipeline, which has become more vocal after Russia’s recent attack on Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait. To give an impression of action, EU leaders in December rolled over the economic sanctions they had imposed on Russia since 2014. Yet, given that sanctions don’t seem to have deterred President Vladimir Putin from committing aggressive acts, it may be time to consider a much bigger stick than the EU (and Germany, in particular) could wield. That would be Nord Stream 2 – the monster gas pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea to Germany.
The pipeline is problematic for a number of reasons. It gives Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom a permanent foothold in Europe, increasing European dependence on Russian energy. It deprives Ukraine of the transit fees it earns by allowing Russia to transport gas to Europe through its territory. If Ukraine loses its leverage as a transit country, that makes it more vulnerable to Russian pressure over gas prices and quantities. All the more reason that it is high time that Merkel buried this big, Russian-led project that her predecessor, the Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder, has supported since 2005. Schröder, an old pal of Putin (whom he once described as an “impeccable democrat”), now sits on the boards of Nord Stream 2 and Gazprom.
Were Merkel to take this leap, it would break Germany’s growing dependence on Russian energy. It would show that Germany is committed to diversification of energy sources, a key element of EU energy policy. It would end the disturbingly ambivalent ties between German political elites and Russia. Above all, it would finally break the cozy non-transparent relationship between Gazprom and the big German, Dutch and Austrian energy companies. That could be one of Merkel’s signature legacies: breaking Russia’s energy grip on Germany and on Europe.
Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear energy played into the hands of Gazprom. The United States was not yet in a position to deliver liquid natural gas (LNG) supplies to Europe. German industry leaned on the chancellor. In typical Merkel fashion, she agreed to locate an LNG terminal in Germany by the end of this year. She should go further. Putin should not benefit from Russia’s latest violation of international law. Merkel should bury Nord Stream 2 and speed up renewable energy.
‘Angela Merkel Needs to Send a Tough Message to Moscow. Here’s how.’ – Op-Ed by Judy Dempsey – Carnegie Europe.
(The Op-Ed can be downloaded here)