Germany has given the go-ahead for a Russian gas pipeline despite the furore over Russia’s chemical attack in 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), one day after Germany and other EU states expelled Russian diplomats over Russia’s use of a chemical weapon to try to kill a former spy in England.
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“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.
The pipeline is a purely “economic project”, German chancellor Angela Merkel and foreign minister Heiko Mass recently reaffirmed.
Those views are diametrically opposed to positions taken by most EU states, EU institutions, and the US.
The pipeline, which will concentrate 80 percent of Russian gas sales to the EU on the German route, will help the Kremlin to blackmail other European states with supply cuts and will make a mockery of international sanctions imposed over Russia’s aggression in the UK and in Ukraine, its critics have said.
“Big victory for Kremlin, helps to increase EU energy dependency on Russia and make Ukraine more vulnerable,” Bob Seely, an MP from Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, said on Tuesday in one of the first reactions to the German permit.
“It [Nord Stream 2] is completely in contradiction with EU energy policy,” Lithuanian foreign minister Linas Linkevicius recently told EUobserver.
Linkevicius said the UK attack had changed nothing in terms of Germany’s outlook on the gas project.
“It’s the same. The SPD is back on board and everybody knows its position on Nord Stream 2,” he said, referring to the centre-left SPD party, which recently struck a new coalition deal with Merkel and which backs the pipeline deal.
The fate of Nord Stream 2 remained uncertain despite the BSH permit, Seely, the British MP noted.
Denmark, Finland, and Sweden could deny Russia permission to use their maritime zones, forcing Gazprom to reroute the pipeline at a higher cost.
The US has threatened to impose sanctions on the EU firms – Engie, OMV, Uniper, Shell, and Wintershall – planning to co-finance the pipeline, which could force Russia to find the money elsewhere.
EU leaders might also put pressure on Germany to halt Nord Stream 2 at a summit in June, British prime minister Theresa May told British MPs earlier on Monday.
Meanwhile, the European Parliament is preparing to pass legislation to make offshore pipelines, including Nord Stream 2, subject to EU anti-monopoly rules, weakening Moscow’s grip over the new infrastructure.
The EU commission “has the legal basis to make the proposal” for the new pipeline law, according to a legal opinion by the EU Council, where member states meet, which was drafted on Monday and seen by the Reuters news agency.
Previous legal opinions said EU states and institutions had no power to force Germany to stop the project or to force Russia to accept the EU anti-monopoly rules, however.
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