Dispute over Nord Stream 2: endurance test for the traffic light government

Berlin, Brussels The “Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection MV” has committed itself to “common good-oriented tasks”. What she means by this can be found on her homepage. For example, that she lets daycare children in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania plant seedlings for “plane, oak, chestnut, ash and maple trees”.

On the other hand, one does not find out anything about the foundation’s explosive secondary activities on the website. Probably because they serve less the common good than the interests of the Russian state company Gazprom and its European business partners.

Register entries found by the German Environmental Aid (DUH) confirm this information: Since July 1, 2021, the foundation has owned a freighter called the “Blue Ship”, which is intended to be used to fill stone in individual areas of the now fully welded pipeline.

The foundation does not want to comment on the activities for the benefit of Gazprom. She left a request from the Handelsblatt unanswered. But the debate will not sit out that easily. The foundation and its “Blue Ship” are at the center of a geopolitical dispute – and could develop into a serious burden on the traffic light coalition.

The Greens sharply criticize: “The foundation is as suitable for saving the climate as gasoline is for putting out fires,” said Claudia Müller, economic politician for the Greens. The purpose of the foundation is “pure fraudulent labeling”, that has been clear for a long time.

“But the fact that the foundation gets its hands dirty in such a way and even helps with the construction of the pipeline is surprising,” emphasized Müller, who was involved in the negotiations on the economic chapters of the coalition agreement and who herself comes from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. “I wonder how subservient to the Russian energy company Gazprom as the state government would actually like to be”. That is “just grotesque”.

SPD politicians, on the other hand, protect the foundation. “One might argue about the name of the foundation established by the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The meaning and purpose of the construction are clear, however: The point is to ensure the implementation of the project despite the US sanctions that are contrary to international law. One cannot object to that, ”said Bernd Westphal, economic policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group. With a view to the US sanctions, the traffic lights follow “an unmistakable common line,” he said.

The Mecklenburg Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig (SPD), one of the most influential voices of the Social Democrats after her triumphant election victory in September, was one of the driving forces behind the idea of ​​establishing the foundation together with Gazprom. In a state parliament debate at the beginning of the year, Schwesig admitted that the non-profit organization could also make a contribution to the completion of Nord Stream 2.

Manuela Schwesig at Nord Stream 2

The Mecklenburg Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig admitted that a non-profit organization could also make a contribution to the completion of Nord Stream 2.

(Photo: dpa)

The Greens have repeatedly denounced the cooperation with Gazprom, they reject the pipeline. The FDP has also positioned itself against Nord Stream 2, mainly for reasons of foreign policy: The gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is a prestige project of the Kremlin and is fueling massive fears in Eastern Europe.

The coalition agreement excludes the pipeline

The pipeline is not mentioned directly in the coalition agreement; the parties failed to resolve their differences. The unresolved conflict over Nord Stream 2 could soon turn into a tangible coalition row.

In any case, the Greens leave no doubt that they are sticking to their rejection – and point out that the responsible Federal Ministry of Economics will in future be in their hands. “I firmly assume that a Ministry of Economic Affairs under the leadership of the Alliance will monitor the pipeline project closely and critically,” said Müller. The coalition agreement makes it clear: “If you want to deliver gas to Germany, you have to adhere to the laws that apply here.”

Bijan Djir-Sarai, foreign policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, also made it clear that the new federal government will “definitely pursue a different policy” than the previous one. “From our point of view, Nord Stream 2 is a European issue,” he said. “The key question is: does the pipeline comply with European energy law?”

There are doubts about that in Brussels. It is unlikely that the EU Commission will prevent Nord Stream 2 from going into operation. But it could impose conditions that would make the project less lucrative for Gazprom.

First, however, the remaining work on the seabed must be completed. Which brings the “Blue Ship” back into play. So far, the ship has carried out stone embankments in Danish waters for the operating company.

Such embankments are necessary in places to stabilize a pipeline on the seabed. According to information from the Handelsblatt from industry circles, there is still little remaining work to be done. Nord Stream 2 AG makes it clear: All of the “Blue Ship” work for Nord Stream 2 AG was carried out on the basis of permits from the relevant authorities.

Pipes for the natural gas pipeline in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania

A foundation of the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is to support the Gazprom group with Nord Stream 2.

(Photo: dpa)

The USA, which regards Nord Stream 2 as a Russian instrument of power and a geopolitical miscalculation by the outgoing federal government, is following the activities of the “Blue Ship” with suspicion. The US State Department listed the ship in its latest sanctions report to Congress, but the Americans did not sanction it.

Because the punitive measures would then also have hit the foundation and thus indirectly the state government of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. An escalation that President Joe Biden shrinks from. In this respect, the foundation fulfills its purpose from the SPD’s point of view.

The “Blue Ship” is currently in the port of Mukran on Rügen. Whether and when the ship will sail again cannot be foreseen with any certainty at the moment. It is also unclear whether and when the pipeline will go into operation.

The Federal Network Agency suspended the certification process for Nord Stream 2 AG at the beginning of last week. First of all, the operating company had to be organized according to German law, the authority had stated as a justification.

So far, the company has been based in Switzerland. According to its own statements, the company is now in the process of founding a subsidiary under German law for the German part of the management. Only this line section is affected by the certification.

The certification is intended to confirm that the company fulfills the conditions of the EU gas market directive. According to the EU gas directive, the operation of piping and distribution of the gas must be separated. In addition, third parties must be given access to the pipeline.

Will the operating company wait that long?

It is unclear how long the certification process, which should originally have been completed in early January, will now be suspended. The length of time stated by experts involved in the process varies. Some speak of “a few weeks”, others of “several months”.

Will the operating company wait that long? Insiders point out that the commissioning of a pipeline without certification would not be without a role model. In fact, according to the Federal Network Agency, the “Northern European Natural Gas Pipeline” (NEL) and the long-distance gas pipeline EGL 401 initially went into operation without the certification having already been granted. According to the Federal Network Agency, there is a one-off fine of “up to one million euros” if it is put into operation without certification.

The amount seems manageable. Investments in the construction of Nord Stream 2 amount to at least ten billion euros. Given the persistently high gas price level, it might be tempting for the operator to get the pipeline up and running quickly, especially as this would save Gazprom transit fees for the passage of gas through Ukraine.

However, the Federal Network Agency emphasizes that the two old cases are in no way comparable with the Nord Stream 2 project. “It is not possible to draw any conclusions from these two proceedings for current or future proceedings. The companies to be audited and the facts in the certification differ too much, ”said a spokesman for the authority.

More: How the gas panic is harming wind power operators.

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