Why Did France Just Save Nord Stream 2?
What a difference a day makes.
Yesterday, things were looking bleak for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. After months of insisting it didn’t want to get involved in the pipeline dispute, a French foreign ministry spokeswoman suddenly announced the country will support a European Commission proposal to make construction more difficult.
Then, just as suddenly, France changed its mind today at a meeting of energy ministers in Brussels – saying it had reached a “compromise” with Germany.
The proposed pipeline, which would bring gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, is being fiercely opposed by an unlikely coalition of environmentalists and right-wing governments in the United States and Eastern Europe. Their view, just about the only thing they agree on, is that the new pipeline will lock Europe into long-term dependence on Russian gas. This is problematic both for efforts to fight climate change and for European energy security.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is desperate to get the pipeline built because she needs to replace the nuclear and coal power she has committed to phase out in the coming years. But at a NATO summit in Brussels last July, US President Donald Trump fiercely criticised Merkel’s decision to approve the pipeline, saying it will make Germany “totally dependent” on Russia. The Trump administration would prefer Germany import liquified natural gas from America instead.
Stops and starts
After plenty of pressure from Washington, a critical mass of EU countries was able to block the EU’s mandate to approve the pipeline. In response, Germany and Russia said they didn’t need EU approval for the pipeline – only national approval from the four EU countries it’s passing through (Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany).
Acknowledging that the rules were unclear, the European Commission put forward a proposal that would indisputably make such pipelines coming to and from non-EU countries fall under EU jurisdiction for approval. Germany has been lobbying countries not to accept this proposal, because it could allow Brussels to kill the pipeline project, on which construction has already begun..
But the German and French ministers reached a compromise this morning which would keep the aspects of the proposal which increase EU oversight of such projects, but would not give the EU the ability to kill them.
According to EU sources, while the compromise might make construction of the pipeline more complicated, it will not prevent its construction.