Dispute over Nord Stream 2 puts German government under pressure

Brussels, Washington, Berlin New governments are usually given a grace period of 100 days. However, the traffic light coalition, which is only a month old, is not sparing itself. The dispute over the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline is already spoiling the mood. “I’m irritated that a coalition partner is falling behind the spirit of the coalition agreement,” said Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky, demanding power from Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). “The chancellor must now clarify the position of the federal government.”

The reason for the green anger are statements by Federal Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and SPD Secretary General Kevin Kühnert. Nord Stream 2, they put it, should not be “pulled” into the conflict with Russia over Ukraine and should be considered a private-sector project. “Energy projects are geostrategically important, in a tough phase of provocation and confrontation by Russia nothing can be considered geopolitically neutral,” counters Lagodinsky.

Similar voices come from the FDP. He is surprised, says the new Secretary General of the Liberals, Bijan Djir-Sarai, in an interview with the Handelsblatt, “when it is claimed that Nord Stream 2 is a purely economic project”. That’s not true. “Of course there is a political dimension.”

Franziska Brandmann, Federal Chairwoman of the Young Liberals, is even clearer. She calls on the federal government to prevent the commissioning of Nord Stream 2. A Russian government that puts opposition figures in labor camps, dissolves human rights organizations and threatens military aggression against Ukraine must “be put in its place by the German government,” says Brandmann.

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But the dispute over the pipeline is not only a burden on the federal government in terms of coalition, but also in terms of foreign policy. The statements made by the SPD have caused considerable irritation in Washington. Lambrecht’s statements were picked up hours later by Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has been pushing for sanctions against the billion-euro project for years.

Biden wants to work closely with Germany

“The German defense minister says Nord Stream 2 is non-negotiable. Germany is not prepared to do anything to stop the pipeline,” Cruz raged on Thursday, just before the US Senate voted on new sanctions. The federal government is “hopelessly divided”, and Germany is complicit if Russia “erases Ukraine from the map”.

A bill by the Texan that wanted to enforce immediate penalties against the billion-euro project ultimately did not make it through the powerful Chamber of Congress – also because the White House lobbied heavily against it. Because the government of President Joe Biden does not want to snub Germany right now, in solidarity with Russia. “We must be closely united with our European partners, including Germany,” the White House National Security Council said in a statement. The attitude of the SPD politicians annoys the US government all the more.

Nord Stream 2 was completed in September, but the operating company still needs certification from the Federal Network Agency. The Bonn authority suspended its proceedings in November because Nord Stream 2 AG is not organized under German law. The Gazprom subsidiary is based in Zug, Switzerland, and now has to set up a German branch.

The US government and its allies in the Senate see the pause in proceedings as evidence that American diplomacy is bearing fruit. “The German government has again committed to stopping Nord Stream 2 if Russia attacks Ukraine,” said top US diplomat Victoria Nuland a few days ago. A statement that is in direct contradiction to what Lambrecht and Kühnert said.

Nuland paced Capitol Hill last week to persuade undecided Democrats to back away from radical Cruz sanctions — with success. “We’re in a different situation now than we were a few months ago,” said Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

US Senate to vote on new sanctions law soon

She voted against Cruz’s sanctions bill, although she is a critic of Nord Stream 2. “The dynamic has changed,” she said, referring to the new federal government. “The only way is to convince Germany to stop,” agreed Democrat Chris Murphy. That looks good.

But the Democrats’ confidence in the federal government has also been shaken. The Senate wants to vote on a new sanctions law in January. The draft by Senator Bob Menendez, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, provides for far-reaching sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The planned penalties target Nord Stream 2, Russian banks, and senior Russian military and government officials, including Vladimir Putin. The White House supports the initiative and thus sends a clear signal to Germany: Menendez’s draft states that the pipeline is a “tool of evil” and that the US government must do everything possible to ensure that the gas pipeline never goes into operation.

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