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The Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, a sign of the erosion of the Franco-German relationship?

As the months go by, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, dubbed "the Putin pipeline" by the tabloid Bild, becomes embarrassing for Germany. The pipeline, expected to be completed by the end of the year, is expected to transport 55 billion cubic meters of Russian gas per year to Europe via the Baltic Sea, crossing the territorial waters of five countries: Russia , Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. The project associates Gazprom with several European companies: Shell, OMV in Austria, Wintershall and Uniper in Germany, and Engie in France.

By radically changing the route of the "gas route" between Russia and Europe, Nord Stream 2 should – and this is the heart of the current controversy – make the European continent particularly dependent on Russia. an energy point of view. And deprive Ukraine, but also Poland or Slovakia of substantial transit rights. In the case of Ukraine, the political consequences of such a financial drying up (estimated at 3% of GDP), should be substantial.

European directive

For all these reasons, the project raises reservations, particularly to the European Commission. The institution fears that it will jeopardize the energy independence of the continent. A European directive, the "gas directive", proposed as early as 2017 that non-European infrastructures respect the same rules in the routing of gas as those followed by European infrastructures: price transparency or separation of activities between suppliers. and infrastructure managers. All these rules would make this project, led by Gazprom, a financially less interesting case.

Berlin was opposed to this directive, supported by Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece and the Netherlands. So far, France seemed to be standing with Germany. But Thursday night, on the eve of the vote on the "gas directive", we learned that she was preparing to rule against Berlin. Barely three weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, the decline of Paris has created a stir in Berlin. Would Macron have yielded to US pressure here? Der Spiegel ? Anyway, several analysts have seen the sign of an erosion of the Franco-German relationship. As the commented hot, on Twitter, the director of the Jacques Delors Institute, Henrik Enderlein: "It seems to me that Paris and Berlin no longer see what constitutes the high added value of their tandem, despite constant verbiage."

Finally, this morning, the two countries gave birth to a compromise. According to it, the application of EU rules for pipelines with third countries such as Russia is the responsibility of the EU country where they are connected for the first time to the European network. In the case of Nord Stream 2 then, Germany. It is this compromise that has been approved by the Twenty-Eight.

Growing pressures from the United States

Remains that Nord Stream 2 has been controversial for years, especially in Eastern Europe. And that pressure from the United States has increased in recent months. On several occasions Donald Trump has shown his hostility to the project. In July, at the NATO summit in Brussels, he already accused Germany, in a diatribe which he is accustomed to "Completely controlled by Russia", even using the term "Prisoner". Germany, he thought then, "Pay billions of dollars to Russia for its energy supplies and we have to pay to protect it against Russia. How to explain this? It is not fair."

Read also Merkel and Putin, special partners

In early January, the US ambassador to Berlin, the sulphurous "Trump boy" Richard Grenell, took over. In a two-page letter, the diplomat threatened the German companies associated with the project and released the word 'Sanctions'.

Read also Nord Stream 2: the United States increases the pressure against Germany

Thursday, Richard Grenell, flanked by two other US ambassadors, returned to the charge in a forum published on the Deutsche Welle. With, again, very strong words and a rather un-diplomatic language. "Does Europe really want to depend on a country that has recently used chemical weapons to kill a political opponent in Europe? A country that invaded the territory of a sovereign country to illegally annex it? A country that shot down flight 17 of Malaysia Airlines, killing 298 innocent civilians? "

Growing criticism in Germany, from the CDU to the Greens

The United States is not the only one to protest. In Germany, if the population is rather favorable to the project, this is not necessarily the case in the political ranks. On the one hand, the environmentalists are opposed to it, Nord Stream 2 risking among other things to pollute the Baltic Sea during the work: toxic pellets of fat were already found last June on the coasts of the bay of Greifswald, where is the German end point of the pipeline.

For Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer, generally"It is extremely embarrassing for the German policy that our government is the last to see that Nord Stream 2 contravenes European interests as well as those of Germany. He also believes that "Berlin's stubborn adherence to Nord Stream 2 has fostered European disruption rather than European understanding".

For less environmental reasons, CDU conservatives also do not see Nord Stream 2 very favorably. It must be said that the project is a pure product of the SPD, with Gerhard Schröder at the maneuver. The former social democratic chancellor, a friend of Putin, is chairman of the Nord Stream 2 board of directors.

For example, the words of conservative Norbert Rötggen, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Bundestag, have been heard in Germany: he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Gas tankets and "diplomatic disaster"

As a result, while traveling to Bratislava on Thursday for talks with the Visegrád group, Angela Merkel tried to reassure her troops: "Are we becoming dependent on Russia with this second pipeline? I say no, if we diversify. " It is true that, in the press, the Chancellor responsible for this gas pataquès is willingly given up. Angela Merkel is accused of denying the political dimension of Nord Stream 2, stubbornly talking about it as a subject "economic".

In any case, if a new Franco-German crisis was narrowly avoided, Germany does not come out of this new episode. "This story is a diplomatic disaster, comment to Release Jan Techau, Director of the European Program at the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. First for the credibility of France: Thursday, Macron is considered a hero in Eastern Europe and in the eyes of all countries that oppose Nord Stream 2 in opposing the German position. The next day, we see him suddenly conclude a shabby agreement with the Germans. And for Germany, it is also a defeat: the country shows its obstinacy and political clumsiness in this case. " An editorialist from Spiegel concludes as follows: "Whether the construction of the pipeline continues or not, the image of Germany in the EU is profoundly altered. Berlin has behaved with too much obstinacy and clumsiness. The price to pay will be high. And it will not be economic, but political. "

Johanna Luyssen correspondent in Berlin



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