Germany Wobbles on Nord Stream Pipeline
Jan 8, 2019 10:46 am
Support in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition for a new Russian gas pipeline is slipping. Pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump starts to bite.
Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion project that will double the natural gas supply under the Baltic Sea to Germany, faces growing skepticism among German officials who had previously defended it against criticism from Trump and some European Union allies. The shift could translate into pressure on Merkel’s government to back down on the controversial pipeline and possibly delay its implementation.
Social Democratic lawmaker Nils Schmid, whose party has been a reliable supporter of the project, said too many decision-makers in Berlin had been slow to factor in Nord Stream’s geopolitical significance. It will reduce the volume of gas pumped through Ukraine as Russia attempts to stifle its neighbor’s economy by depriving it of lucrative transit fees.
“The debate in Germany has become more critical,” Schmid, the junior coalition party’s point man on foreign policy, said in an interview, adding that the project shouldn’t go forward until Russia and Ukraine reach a transit accord. “It would have been better to take this political dimension into account.”
The 1,200-kilometer undersea pipeline being constructed by Russia’s Gazprom PJSC has been pilloried by some of Germany’s allies, who say it bolsters Europe’s reliance on Russian energy and bypasses key partners such as Ukraine. Trump has blasted the project — about a third of which has been completed — as holding Germany “captive” to Russia.
The ground is shifting, with an ever more fraught relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, particularly since the November seizure of two dozen Ukrainian sailors near the Sea of Azov. Merkel, who has sparred with Putin since the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, is demanding the release of the naval personnel.
The Azov incident in the Kerch Strait has soured prospects that Merkel’s diplomacy can scale back the conflict in eastern Ukraine, according to Juergen Hardt, a lawmaker in Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union who speaks on foreign affairs.
Hardt said Germany’s governing parties need to find consensus with the European Commission on energy diversification and reliance on Russian gas. He also questioned the economic viability of Nord Stream, poking holes in the government’s previous defense of the project.
Merkel shifted her position on Nord Stream last April, acknowledging the political dimensions of the pipeline and departing from her previous insistence that it was solely a business venture by private investors.
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