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Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest

Work looks set to resume on the controversial NordStream 2 pipeline that will bring Russian gas to Germany despite a fresh protest from the United States on Saturday.

Germany set to finish controversial Russian pipeline despite US protest
Unused pipeline at Mukran Port in north Germany. Photo: AFP

German shipping authorities have issued an advisory for the Baltic Sea area where the final few kilometres of the pipeline are set to be laid, warning vessels to avoid the zone from December 5-31.

Ship-tracking website Marinetraffic.com also shows Russian pipe-laying ships Fortuna and Akademik Cherskiy moving towards the area.

These indications coincided with a statement from the acting US ambassador to Germany calling on Berlin and the EU to halt construction of the 1,200-kilometre (750-mile) pipeline, which is also opposed by many eastern European states.

“Now is the time for Germany and the EU to impose a moratorium on the construction of the pipeline,” acting ambassador Robin Quinville told business daily Handelsblatt.

This would send a signal to Russia that Europe was not willing to accept “its ongoing malicious behaviour”, the diplomat said.

“The pipeline is not only an economic project, but also a political tool that the Kremlin is using to bypass Ukraine and divide Europe.”

Many critics

Nord Stream 2 is a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline that will run beneath the Baltic Sea and is set to double Russian natural-gas shipments to Germany, Europe's largest economy.

It has long been in the crosshairs of the United States, particularly by the Trump administration which has openly criticised European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.

Work has been suspended for nearly a year because of US sanctions signed off by Trump in late 2019 that threaten asset freezes and visa restrictions for companies involved in the construction work.

As well as Russian giant Gazprom, which has a majority stake, the international consortium involved in the project includes European players such as Germany's Wintershall and Uniper groups, the Dutch-British giant Shell, France's Engie and Austria's OMV.

Trump has said Germany is “a captive to Russia” because of its energy policy.

Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states are also fiercely opposed to the pipeline, fearing it will increase Europe's reliance on Russian energy supplies, which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has face criticism in Germany for backing the project and there was speculation that she might withdraw support following the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny earlier this year.

Navalny was treated in a Berlin hospital and German authorities concluded that he had been poisoned with a rare Novichok nerve agent developed by Russian authorities, plunging relations with the Kremlin to a new low.

In September when asked if the poisoning could affect Nordstream 2, Merkel's spokesman replied: “The chancellor believes it would be wrong to rule anything out from the start.”

A Nordtream 1 pipeline, which runs along a similar route to Nordstream 2, was inaugurated in 2011.

SEE ALSO: Denmark hails new German doubts on Russian gas pipeline

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ENERGY

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

With Russia's invasion in Ukraine exacerbating high energy and petrol prices, Germany is set to introduce a second relief package to limit the impact on consumers.

German government announces fresh relief package for high energy costs

The additional package of measures was announced by Economy and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) on Sunday.

Speaking to DPA, Habeck said the wave of price increases throughout the energy sector were becoming increasingly difficult for households to bear.

“Extremely high heating costs, extremely high electricity prices, and extremely high fuel prices are putting a strain on households, and the lower the income, the more so,” he said. “The German government will therefore launch another relief package.”

The costs of heating and electricity have hit record highs in the past few months due to post-pandemic supply issues. 

This dramatic rise in prices has already prompted the government to introduce a range of measures to ease the burden on households, including abolishing the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) levy earlier than planned, offering grants to low-income households and increasing the commuter allowance. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s relief package against rising prices means for you

But since Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on February 24th, the attack has been driving up energy prices further, Habeck explained.

He added that fears of supply shortages and speculation on the market were currently making the situation worse. 

How will the package work?

When defining the new relief measures, the Economics Ministry will use three criteria, Habeck revealed. 

Firstly, the measures must span all areas of the energy market, including heating costs, electricity and mobility. 

Heating is the area where households are under the most pressure. The ministry estimates that the gas bill for an average family in an unrenovated one-family house will rise by about €2,000 this year. 

Secondly, the package should include measures to help save energy, such as reducing car emissions or replacing gas heating systems.

Thirdly, market-based incentives should be used to ensure that people who use less energy also have lower costs. 

“The government will now put together the entire package quickly and constructively in a working process,” said Habeck.

Fuel subsidy

The three-point plan outlined by the Green Party politician are not the only relief proposals being considered by the government.

According to reports in German daily Bild, Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FPD) is allegedly considering introducing a state fuel subsidy for car drivers.

The amount of the subsidy – which hasn’t yet been defined – would be deducted from a driver’s bill when paying at the petrol station. 

The operator of the petrol station would then have to submit the receipts to the tax authorities later in order to claim the money back. 

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, fuel prices have risen dramatically in Germany: diesel has gone up by around 66 cents per litre, while a litre of E10 has gone up by around 45 cents.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The everyday products getting more expensive in Germany

As well as support for consumers, the government is currently working on a credit assistance programme to assist German companies that have been hit hard by the EU sanctions against Russia.

As reported by Bild on Saturday, bridging aid is also being discussed for companies that can no longer manage the sharp rise in raw material prices.

In addition, an extension of the shorter working hours (Kurzarbeit) scheme beyond June 30th is allegedly being examined, as well as a further increase in the commuter allowance.

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