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04/16/2021

Last Round in the Nord Stream 2

Last Round in the Nord Stream 2

By Tunç Akkoç

Nord Stream 2 is a project that aims to increase the natural gas supply from Russia to Europe. The construction was agreed upon in 2015. But since that day, discussions between the US and European countries have not stopped. The conflict went beyond discussion, and the involved Western countries and politicians have entered a fierce power struggle over the last 5 years. Although today the natural gas pipeline starting in Russia and ending in Germany is almost completed, the project has been causing controversies more than ever.

Giant project prone to change balances

Germany and Russia are in the center of the project. The 1224 km long pipeline starts in the Russian city of Wyborg at the Baltic Sea coast and ends in the German city of Lubmin, located in the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. But the project involves several European countries, as the Russian natural gas will not only be delivered to Germany but to other countries as well. The project, whose constructions costs are an estimated 10 billion Euro, is led on the Russian side by Gasprom and on the European side by a consortium consisting of 5 members. In Germany the companies Uniper and Wintershall-Dea, in France Engie, in Austria OMV and the British-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell are participating in the project. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Nord Stream AG, which manages the pipeline.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline that crosses the Baltic Sea right in the middle has started operations in 2011. Nord Stream 2 is constructed on the same course in parallel to the existing pipeline. That means that the gas delivery capacity will be doubled. Until today, 55 billion m3 were transported yearly, and with the completion of Nord Stream 2, the transport capacity will increase to 110 billion m3. It is forecasted that Europe’s natural gas demand will increase in the coming years. Experts state that, beginning with Germany, Europe faces a lack of natural gas supply of 120 to 140 billion m3 yearly in the upcoming years.

The Ukraine and Poland oppose the Nord Stream 2

Until today, between 40% and 50% of the Russian natural gas exports to Europe were transferred via the Ukraine. When Nord Stream 2 is finished, the Ukraine will stop being a transit country for Russian gas. This means huge economic loss for the Ukraine, as the country gains approximately 2 billion dollars yearly as transit fees. Additionally, its status as a transit country provided the Ukraine great safety in its relations with Russia in terms of politics and security. Meanwhile, Germany was insisting in the on-going negotiations with Russia that a certain part of the gas had to be transited also in the future via the Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Poland is also one of the countries that most strongly oppose the Nord Stream 2. Warsaw aims to become an important actor in the gas transit and logistics. It is also one of the closes allies of the US. Alongside Poland, the Baltic countries also oppose the project, decrying it will increase Russia’s influence in Europe.

Biden continues old policy

The pipeline construction has entered the final phase, with only approximately 140 km left to be laid on the ground of the sea. In other words, 87% of the pipeline is already finished. But relations between Europe and Russia turned very tense due to the claimed poisoning of Navalny, for this reason, discussions concerning the project have flared up again in the last months.

The Trump Administration also provoked discussions, using the Navalny event, and tried to sabotage the Nord Stream 2 project. The German government on the other side seemed determined to complete the construction and was hoping for “calm waters” with the new US Administration. Since New Years Eve, the German public opinion was expressing frequently the opinion that a compromise with the Biden Administration was possible. It then became obvious that this was not going to happen.

The US State Department’s declaration from early March had a harsh tone, companies were being outright threatened: “Every company that takes part in the project will be sanctioned. They must stop their activities immediately.”

The new Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken met his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, and transmitted the US position crystal clear in the first encounter. Blinken emphasized that the Nord Stream target was to divide Europe and weaken the continent’s energy security. The US Secretary of State furthermore claimed that Russia was going to use energy policy as a weapon against Europe in future. Following all these developments, Nord Stream 2 returned back on the top of the agenda of politics and public opinion in Germany.

Greens lead anti-Russian sentiment

The politicians, journalists, representatives of NGOs, who desire to return the transatlantic alliance to its “good old days”, and who have realized that the path there passes over anti-Russian sentiment, are speaking up in Germany in the past days. And gaining morale from the US Administration’s harsh position, they focus above all on Nord Stream 2.

The political party in Germany that rejects Nord Stream 2 institutionally and categorically are the Greens. Their Chairpersons, the co-leaders Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck presented the “Political Program for the Elections, 2021” 3 weeks ago. The program includes the position to stop the Nord Stream. This was in so far surprising, because no one had expected the Greens to go that far as to officially announce this position. The Alliance 90/Greens declare in their program the following: “Nord Stream has be stopped due to geopolitical reasons. On that way, we will be more independent in energy policy.”

In the meantime, the website of the Greens carries a campaign to collect signatures under the title “Stop Nord Stream 2”. A sentence in the text to be signed draws attention: “This project is not just an economic project, as the Federal government claims. It is fully a political project. With this project, the German Federal Government is turned into the spare tire of authoritarian Russian President Putin.”

On that matter, Reinhard Bütikofer leads the pack among the Greens. Bütikhofer has been Chairman of the party for 6 years, and he was co-chair of the Green fraction in the European Parliament for 7 years. Currently, he is Member of the European Parliament and member of European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with the United States of America.

Bütikhofer tweeted immediately after the Bliken-Haas meeting, saying “And the pipeline disaster greets you every day” while shortly later re-tweeting news about US threats to German Foreign Minister. It is obvious that US threats have lightened up the mood of Bütikofer.

Two days later, Bütikofer tweeted even more recklessly and in a way that threatened the German government with the US Administration, saying, “There is still time to find a way out of the self-inflicted crisis. Do you really believe that Biden will so easily accept German gas deals with Putin, whom he considers a “murderer”.

It is noteworthy that Bütikhofer is one of the 10 Members of the European Parliament that China has sanctioned past month.

Fans of the Transatlantic Alliance

Another political subject that started action following the US threats against Germany and Nord Stream 2 is the oppositional political party FDP, the liberals (Free Democratic Party). The FDP’s spokesperson for foreign policy, Bijan Djir-Sarai gave an interview to Reuters, stating, “I expect Foreign Minister Maas to take the expectations of Blinken seriously”. Dijr-Sarai, who is also a member of the German Federal Government’s Foreign Relations Committee, said “it is finally time to do what needs to be done”, asking for concrete steps. 

Even more interesting are the dissident voices heard from within the governing CDU (Christian Democratic Union). The statements made by the Coordinator of Transatlantic Cooperation of the Federal Foreign Office, Peter Bayer on March 31 called attention. Bayer, who is also Member of the Foreign Relations Committee of the German Federal Parliament, spoke to the weekly economics magazine Wirtschaftswoche, saying “As we are on the eve of a new beginning for the transatlantic relations, the Nord Stream 2 project presents a serious obstacle. The Americans are expecting not just a change of rhetoric but concrete steps from us. Therefore, I call for a moratorium in the project’s construction.”

One of the first to share Bayer’s declaration on Twitter was Alexander Lambsdorff, Deputy Group Chairman of the FDP in the German federal parliament.  Lambsdorff tweeted, “Peter Bayer has thus joined the FDP’s position”. 

Other leading members of the CDU have also expressed critical opinions on Nord Stream 2, and it is well known that there is a strong controversy on the matter within the party.

Enter the capital-supported ‘environmentalists’

NGOs are also taking part in the campaign against Nord Stream 2 in Germany. The ‘environmentalist’ Deutsche Umwelthife e.V., one of the most influential lobby groups with a strong financial base, is leading the pack. Deutsche Umwelthife acts practically as the spokesperson of the campaign against Nord Stream 2 and has also applied to different courts in order to stop the construction. In their most recent petition in January 2021, they demanded that the construction should stop when reaching German maritime boundaries. The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency of Germany (BSH, for its initials in German) rejected the petition on April 1. The Deutsche Umwelthilfe is currently preparing an application to a higher court.

Just two days before the BSH’s decision, Constantin Zerger, a director of the Deutsche Umwelthilfe tweeted about what his NGO is aiming at with the petition and court applications: “What is the current status? Our contradiction is currently making the construction of #NordStream2 impossible in German waters. We are determined to use all legal means”.

The aim here is to gain time, sabotage and slow down the construction. Germany is heading towards federal elections in 5 months, and the opponents are trying to stop the construction until then. They hope that a new government takes over and changes policy on this issue.

Zerger tweeted on the day the BSH has declared its decision, that they will keep on with the strategy: “This morning the #BSH has declined our objection to the continued construction of #NordStream2. Now we are going to file a lawsuit to stop this fossil mega-project from continuing!”

Meanwhile, the construction of the pipeline has not been stopped and continues in Danish waters. The construction in German waters is planned for May.

The Deutsche Umwelthilfe is not a simple environmentalist NGO, and there are wide speculations about it in the German public opinion. The Chairman of the CDU, Armin Laschet had evaluated the NGO in the past as follows: “This is an NGO that is financed by a foreign automobile company, and its aim is to weaken the German automobiles industry. How is it possible that this NGO has so few members and still can afford to employ 100 workers full-time?” It is known that Toyota and other multinational companies sponsor the Deutsche Umwelthilfe.

In February of 2021, the NGO has targeted in public declarations Olaf Scholz, Chairman of the SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany), and presented some documents to the public. It claimed that Olaf Scholz, who is serving as Federal Minister of Finance, had proposed to the Trump Administration to buy LNG from the US worth 1 billion dollars and, in exchange, demanded that Washington gave up its sanction measures against Nord Stream 2. Scholz was being targeted because he was one of the determined defenders of Nord Stream 2. This shows that the Umwelthilfe is not just an NGO of simple activists but an organization that takes political positions, creates public opinion and influences decision-making processes. Consequently, the Chairman of the NGO, Sascha Müller-Kraenner makes ‘proposals’ via Twitter concerning Nord Stream 2 to the US Secretary of State and the new US Special Envoy for International Energy.

The close ties between the Umwelthilfe’s Chairman, Sascha Müller-Kreanner and the US call attention. Müller-Kraenner served during years at various levels in the organization The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which is considered to be one of the best-financed and strongest NGOs in the US, financed by international cartels. Müller-Kraenner founded the London and Berlin offices of the TNC and led the Europe Desk until 2014. Sascha Müller-Kraenner is at the same time awardee of the famous German Marshall Fund.

The Federal Government is determined

Meanwhile, the Federal Government continues its decided stance on Nord Stream 2 in spite of all the pressure. The spokesperson of the CDY for foreign policy, Jürgen Hardt was the first to answer the US Secretary of State’s declarations. Hardt said that the construction needed to be finished, otherwise a loss of billions of Euro and claims of reparation were due. Hardt also criticized the US, saying sanctions should not be an option among allies. Following the Blinken-Maas meeting, a German Foreign Ministry official spoke to the press and reiterated that Germany’s position has not changed. Another Foreign Ministry official spoke to Reuters and defended the project strongly: “The Transatlantic Coordinator, Mr. Peter Bayer’s has spoken only for himself. The position of the Federal Government concerning Nord Stream 2 has not changed.”

The German President, Frank Walter Steinmeier has also made a declaration in support of the project in February 2021. Likewise, the Minister of Economy, Peter Altmaier stated “on the one hand are the economic relations that go back dozens of years between two countries, on the other hand there are human rights violations. The two should not be mixed up”, and thus responded to those who were demanding the project’s stop in reference to the Navalny case. Two weeks ago, the Minister for Environment, Svenja Schulze was guest to the widely followed YouTube channel Jung&Naiv, where stated that Nord Stream 2 must be completed.

German state policy will not change

The Nord Stream 2 project is in its most crucial phase right now. For the completion, just 120 km of pipeline in Danish waters and 30 km in German waters need to be laid. The company Gazprom has declared that the pipeline will be completed within this year. But the general elections that will take place in Germany in September may lead to unexpected developments. In the coming months, the political tension will rise due to the election campaign, and we can expect the Nord Stream 2 to be one of the most hotly debated topics. Those politicians who believe in and bet on the revival of the transatlantic alliance will heat up this debate.

Consequently, in this crucial phase the US has set his forces in Germany in motion. The events abovementioned clearly display this. Their new goal is to enable the building of a new governing coalition, and a priority of the US is to stop the construction at least up until the elections. The Nord Stream 2 project constitutes one of the main parameters in Biden’s policy towards Germany. Accordingly, the US wishes that the Greens and the liberal FDP be part of a new governing coalition. The dissenting voices heard from time to time from the CDU also belong to this front. All CDU officials that make declarations against the Nord Stream 2 project are members of different US-connected organizations. 

In spite of all these developments, it does not seem very probable that the German state’s policy changes. First of all, it is very hard to see that the tendency and the balance within the political parties changes to the project’s disadvantage. The two major political parties, the CDU and the SPD, have no reason to change their established position. The CDU had two candidates for the position of the Chairman who were opposing the Nord Stream 2, Friedrich Merz and Nortbert Röttgen, but both have lost in the recent party congress. The current Chairman and party’s candidate for Chancellor, Armin Laschet, is known for his support to the completion of the project. Another important factor is that two more parties that are represented in the parliament, the Left Party and the right wing, populist AfD (Alternative for Germany, for its name in German), also do not oppose the Nord Stream 2. One of the main reasons, why the event around Navalny was staged last year and it was attempted to pull Germany into the affair, was to change the political balance on this matter. It didn’t work out.

Secondly, Germany has a history of 50 years of gas trade with Russia (or the Soviet Union), the project itself is not a novelty. Experts state that the pipeline does not crate energy dependency on Russian gas. Germany has different alternatives and it chooses the most logical option. Germany has adopted the energy regime change as state politics and moves therefore away from coal and nuclear energy. The transition to renewable energy will take years to complete, and in the meantime, natural gas consumption will rise. And most importantly, Russian gas is cheap. Nord Stream 2 will decrease gas prices in whole Europe. The LNG that the US wants to sell to Germany and other European countries on the other hand is 20% more expansive than the Russian gas.

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