Since the arrival of Donald Trump in power, German-American relations have deteriorated significantly. This is further deteriorating: the United States, through its ambassador in Berlin, now threaten German companies associated with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project. 'Sanctions' if the project continues.
The pipeline, already under construction, plans to ship 55 billion cubic meters of Russian gas a year to Europe via the Baltic Sea – more than double what Nord Stream 1 has already in 2011. Nord Stream 2 should thus make Europe particularly dependent on Russia from an energy point of view. The project associates Gazprom with several European companies: Shell, OMV in Austria, Wintershall and Uniper in Germany, and Engie in France.
Germany "prisoner" of Russia
In general, Nord Stream 2 is a source of much hostility. Several Eastern European countries are opposed to it, notably Poland, deprived of precious transit rights. But the most virulent of his critics is Donald Trump. The US president has criticized the project for months: in July, at the NATO summit in Brussels, he was already accusing, in a hallucinatory diatribe, Germany of being "Completely controlled by Russia", even using the term "Prisoner". Germany, he thought then, "Pay billions of dollars to Russia for its energy supplies and we must pay to protect it against Russia. How to explain this? It is not fair." Since this summer, the pressures have intensified. Now the US ambassador to Berlin, the sulphurous "Trump boy" Richard Grenell, has taken over.
In a two-page letter dated January 3, the diplomat threatens the German companies associated with the project. "As you know, the United States strongly opposes Nord Stream 2," does he attack the ball in the lead, before concluding: "That is why I ask, on behalf of my Government, that your company take into consideration the danger that this project poses for European energy security, as well as the reputational costs and the risks of sanctions that may be associated with it. . " Sanctions: the word is dropped – and Grenell repeated it in a later interview, given to the economic daily Handelsblatt.
Moreover, the US ambassador is not the only one to criticize the project. It is very difficult for Germany to promote Nord Stream 2 without losing face from a diplomatic point of view. The pipeline, supplying Europe via the Baltic Sea, bypasses Ukraine, and should also cut its transit rights – which account for around 3% of its GDP. Which, of course, would weaken it politically.
Divided political class
On the German side, the reactions are contrasted. "The questions of European energy policy must be decided in Europe, not in the United States", commented the Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas (SPD). "Is Mr Grenell aware that the time of High Commissioners in Germany is over?" tweeted Vice President of the SPD, Ralf Stegner, referring to the occupation of Germany by the Allies after the Second World War.
But in truth, the political class in Germany is quite divided. "The government is not united on the subject. For example, Angela Merkel's party, the CDU, is not very favorable to Nord Stream 2, while feeling obliged to support the project; the SPD, it is much more sensitive, " comments Stefan Meister, expert from Russia and Eastern Europe at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik, think tank specialized in the study of international relations.
Toxic fat meatballs
In addition, environmentalists oppose it for environmental reasons, Nord Stream 2 likely to pollute significantly the Baltic Sea during work: toxic grease pellets have already been found in June on the coast of Greifswald Bay, at the edge of the Baltic. In short, the German government is walking on eggs. "In general, Chancery is particularly silent these days on foreign policy issues, Stefan Meister believes. Angela Merkel devotes all her energy to consolidating the future of the CDU, the party from which she has just given up the presidency. Absorbed by national issues, the Chancellor is no longer a key foreign policy person. "
Moreover, this affair, which is becoming more and more politically sensitive, should further erode the Germans' confidence in the United States, already undermined by Trump's recurrent diatribes. Result, "An anti-American sentiment is growing day by day in Germany. And Russia is becoming more and more popular in opinion, commented Stefan Meister. Now, the Germans even think that China is a more reliable partner than the United States.
Johanna Luyssen correspondent in Berlin
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