Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (France) - French President Macron has attempted to curry favour with the United States by attempting to block the Baltic pipeline Nordstream 2, making it subject to unfavourable new EU legislation. The pipeline is vital for German industry that urgently needs new gas supplies as nuclear energy is run down and previous sources in the North Sea and Holland are used up.
For over twenty years France has supported Germany over the pipeline. However, they switched sides this week, on the eve of the vote on new legislation that would make external pipelines arriving in the EU subject to EU rules and therefore far less competitive. Astonishingly this U-turn comes only three weeks after France signed what has been described as the sycophantic treaty of Aix La Chapelle with Germany. It is the result of US pressure and threats of sanctions, presumes the German magazine Der Spiegel.
The German reaction was not long in coming and, after vigorous negotiations, France was obliged to accept a face-saving compromise. The application of rules for new pipelines is to be in the hands of the country where the pipeline arrives at the frontier of the EU– in this case Germany.
President Macron has thus generated the worst possible result. He has angered his supposed close allies by double crossing them and then had to give way. He will thus have annoyed both Germany without pleasing the United States. He has shown himself to be treacherous and weak at the same time.
The United States is trying hard to stop the pipeline that is already one third complete. Their opposition stems from a desire to keep Europe and Russia separated as far as possible and to help the countries that are hostile to Russia and will lose transit fees notably Ukraine. In addition, if Washington were to be successful, they then hoped to sell their own LNG gas to Europe, despite it being at least 20% more expensive.
Germany has shown great determination in seeing the pipeline completed and has been prepared to concede a great deal to the United States whilst it is being built, even as a trade war threatens with President Trump. Merkel has persuaded Russia to keep some gas supplies going through Ukraine and has agreed to build a plant to accept and process LNG gas in Germany. But on the essentials, she has been inflexible that the pipeline will be built. In this she has not only the support of most Germans but great pressure from German industry.
It is generally believed that the first pipeline, Nordstream 1, was solely initiated by Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. In reality it was Mrs. Merkel who in 2005 gave it the go ahead two weeks before the elections in which she won power. In a meeting specially called by President Putin, he made it clear that unless she was prepared to commit to it, when and if elected, Russia would not build it.
Also, in the late 1990s the European Commission supported the pipeline and helped with the funding. With the enlargement of the EU to include the Russia hostile Baltic states and Poland they felt obliged to obstruct it. The United States has opposed Europe taking gas from Russia since President Reagan in the 1980s, but under Trump US opposition has become more virulent with unprecedented threats of sanctions against NATO allies.
Last July in Brussels at a NATO meeting Trump fulminated that Germany was ‘completely controlled by Russia’ and that Germany ‘pays billions of dollars to Russia for energy supplies and we must protect them from Russia. How do you explain that, it’s not fair?’ The weakness of this argument is that in no way does Russia control Germany. It is the United States that has 40 military bases in Germany not Russia. Germany needs no protection from Russia and would hardly be heartbroken if the US stopped protecting them and took their troops home. NATO’s US nuclear capability makes Germany a potential target for Russian missiles in the event of a war.