Robert Harneis –TDO- (FRANCE) If the unproven and slightly absurd allegations that Russian President Vladimir Putin organized the poisoning of a pardoned spy in the English country town of Salisbury were intended to derail the construction of the Nordstream2 gas pipeline, they have failed so far.
Germany has given the final clearance for the pipeline only a day after announcing the expulsion of four Russian diplomats amidst a coordinated mass expulsion across the EU and NATO to show ‘solidarity’ with the UK.
The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) in Berlin said Russia could build the pipeline, called Nord Stream 2, on Tuesday 27 March.
"We are pleased that all necessary permits are now in place for the German route section," Jens Lange, the head of the Nord Stream 2 consortium, said.
Permits from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, whose Baltic Sea zones will host pipe segments, were also "expected to be issued in the coming months" and Nord Stream 2 will be built this year "as planned", the consortium, an offshoot of Russian state firm Gazprom, said.
The BSH analysis showed Nord Stream 2 "will contribute to increasing security of supply and competition in the EU gas market", the Russian company added.
To insulate Germany from growing pressure to cancel the project, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign minister Heiko Mass have described the pipeline as a purely "economic project".
However, the Baltic States and Poland with Denmark claim it is an attempt to make Europe vulnerable to pressure of gas cut offs. "Nord Stream 2 is completely in contradiction with EU energy policy," Lithuanian Foreign minister Linas Linkevicius told EUobserver recently. He said the UK attack had changed nothing in terms of Germany's outlook on the gas project.
In the background the US has consistently tried to stop European nations building pipelines to Russia since the 1980s, threatening to impose sanctions on the EU firms - Engie, OMV, Uniper, Shell, and Wintershall - planning to co-finance the pipeline. It is however a rare area where Germany, and the other EU states, that will benefit, have ignored the pressure. Ironically one of those states is Britain that has recently been doing everything it can to worsen relations with Russia. Britain has recently suffered from severe gas shortages and was compelled to buy a tanker load of Russian gas. Despite this British Prime Minister Theresa May told British MPs earlier on Monday EU leaders might put pressure on Germany to halt Nord Stream 2 at a summit in June.
The position of the European Commission is also confused. They approved Nordstream1 and helped with its financing. Since the arrival of the ex-Soviet Baltic states and Poland in the EU they have changed their tune, despite the fact that the new pipeline is just an increase in the capacity of the old one. In the past they have had in-house legal opinions making it clear that they have no power to stop or regulate the project. According to Reuters the European Council of EU heads of state has now managed to find a legal opinion that challenges that position.
Germany urgently needs the new pipeline capacity to make up for the closing of nuclear power stations and declining Dutch production. However, it will enable Russia more easily to stop transiting gas through hostile and troubled Ukraine. The EU supports the Kiev government and is concerned that the loss of gas traffic fees will weaken its already crumbling finances.