One day before the vote on the future of the Nord Stream 2 project in Brussels, Paris signaled that it would become thegive up, the excitement was great. Is there a deep rift in Franco-German relations and is there even the end of the pipeline? A short-term compromise indicates that the new regulation secures rather than decisively hampers the future of the project.
What is the compromise?
Contrary to the proposal of the EU Commission, Germany remains the negotiator in the pipeline project to transport Russian gas directly from Vyborg near the Finnish border to the Baltic Sea port of Greifswald. The power struggle in Brussels, where they wanted to take control of the major energy projects in Europe, was, However, the Commission gets certain rights of control.
In addition, it is about the separation of gas supply and network operation. In the future, stricter rules will be laid down, according to which the supplier of the gas may not at the same time also have control over the pipeline operation. So far, the Russian Gazprom Group held 51 percent of the shares in the pipeline, the rest a consortium with German and French participation. This design would have to be changed and Gazprom will partially or completely withdraw from pipeline operations.
Paris helped Berlin with Nord Stream 2
"The conflict ended much less dramatically than you thought," says Simone Tagliapietra of Brussels Bruegel Institute of Economics. "Paris has helped Berlin with the compromise to get the cow off the ice". And the energy expert distributes good grades for the German negotiating process, with which Berlin reached this compromise.
For Russia, however, the most important thing is that the pipeline will be built at all, says Tagliapietra. The aim is to be able to sell gas to Germany as an important customer, without being dependent on third countries. Moscow is less concerned with control of the pipe network, which is considered secondary.
However, it is crucial that Germany continues to conduct negotiations here. This meant "a points victory for Germany and at the same time for the national member states against the power claim of the European Commission".
An end to Nord Stream 2 would have hit Moscow hard, but with the compromise solution now on the table, they could live there. Russia's strategic interest in direct gas sales without any detours and Germany's national interest were safeguarded by the revision of the EU Gas Directive, which is now planned. The criticism from Eastern European countries on the project therefore does not dismiss the compromise.
An affront of Paris against Berlin?
Is the sudden turnaround at Nord Stream 2 a sign of a crisis between Paris and Berlin? It is actually crippling between partners, says Gustav Gressel of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Especially with regard to arms exports, the budget for common defense projects, reforms in social and European politics. Paris was angry because the Germans were moving so slowly.
But Nord Stream 2 does not see the security and Eastern European expert on the list of conflict issues. In no case should one understand the change of the French position to the pipeline project as a personal dispute between President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel. Because for both the project belonged to the bargaining unit, where one could cut down because of other priorities. For the French president, for example, a gesture towards Eastern Europe plays a role – such decisions must always be seen tactically.
And for Merkel, explains Gustav Gressel, Nord Stream 2 was never a heart issue anyway. "Sigmar Gabriel [SPD-Wirtschaftsminister 2013-2017] The project was one of the concerns of the SPD and played a domestic role for the Chancellor, rather because of the coalition peace, but in terms of foreign and parliamentary policy, the pipeline construction for the Chancellor has long been a block On the leg.
But as far as conspiracy theories on the connection between Nord Stream 2 and Macron's short-term cancellation at the Munich Security Conference are concerned, Gustav Gressel has a completely different explanation. "The background is that in the security and defense policy at the moment, the French do not speak so well about Germany". Macron would have had to make a good face in Munich on the side of Merkel, which would not have arrived well at his home. Or he would have had to criticize the German attitude openly and thus really caused huge headlines about a Franco-German rift. Since it is the easier solution, not only to go to Munich.
Criticism of Nord Stream 2 remains
MEP Reinhard Bütikofer (The Greens) sees the compromise on Nord Stream 2 as more of a defeat for Angela Merkel, because she really wanted to prevent the new version of the EU Gas Directive. Now she is counting on installing as many backdoors as possible, so that in the end European energy law can be ignored. However, next week's negotiations on the new directive would start in the European Parliament, and there they would be well prepared, which sounds more like a threat.
The energy expert Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research also holds to its fundamental criticism of the pipeline project: "The compromise fundamentally changes nothing, the dependence on the Russian gas remains." Gazprom will continue to promote and transport gas and will also be in possession of strategic gas storage facilities in Europe. The compromise hopes only to prevent the Russian group from exploiting its market power, and it hopes for greater control. Even if that works, but the other serious disadvantages of the pipeline are not resolved.