Berlin’s plan to double the capacity of a gas pipeline to Russia has drawn strong criticisms from around Europe, but it’s also drawing the ire of politicians within Germany. The FT reports:
Manfred Weber, chairman of the centre-right European People’s party, said the proposed pipeline would undermine the EU’s foreign and security goals by increasing dependence on Gazprom, Russia’s gas export monopoly. […]
Mr Weber’s intervention is significant because he is a senior German politician whose party is allied to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s within the EPP. Germany is seen as the prime agitator in favour of Nord Stream 2, while Italy and Poland are bitterly opposed.
Critics of the project accuse Germany of hypocrisy for protecting its own interests, while other EU member states argue they had to pay a high price for a confrontational sanctions policy against Russia, after the annexation of Crimea.
Nord Stream 2 is looking to be a major wedge issue for the EU, as southern member states are going to make quite the ruckus if the project goes ahead after their own option to bolster pipeline infrastructure with Russia—the South Stream pipeline—was killed in December 2014 after Brussels intervened, citing competition rules that outlawed a single entity from owning both the hydrocarbons and the transporting pipeline. Those are legitimate concerns, as is Brussels’ reluctance to strengthen energy ties with Moscow (and its own reliance on Russian supplies) in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. But if these reasons were enough to sink South Stream, how is Nord Stream 2 any different?
Furthermore, opponents of the deal cite the pain that the pipeline would deal a powerful blow to the budget of struggling Ukraine, which derives more than €2 billion in transit fees as Europe-bound Russian gas transits its territories.
Proponents of the project point to the fact that it will transit international waters—not land—and that this should somehow exempt it from the same considerations that sunk the southern spur. Others, like Weber, are adamant that this project not skate through by taking advantage of a loophole.
Nord Stream 2 isn’t just controversial within the EU—it’s also a divisive issue within Germany. Weber’s comments show that Merkel’s coalition isn’t entirely on board with the pipeline, adding another wrinkle to an already contentious issue with some big implications for EU solidarity and energy security.