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GERMANY AND RUSSIA

Pipe dreams: German village seeks future for Nord Stream 2

Once defended by the former chancellor Angela Merkel as a purely economic project that will bring cheaper gas to Europe, the controversial 10 billion-euro Nord Stream 2 pipeline has finally been canned by Germany over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Pipe dreams: German village seeks future for Nord Stream 2
People on the beach in Lubmin, northern Germany, in July 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

But the small German coastal village Lubmin where the pipeline comes to shore remains divided over Nord Stream 2, with some harbouring hopes that it could yet one day bring energy to Europe — though perhaps not Russian gas.

“I cannot imagine that such a huge and above all such an expensive project could just become industrial ruins,” Lubmin’s mayor Axel Vogt told AFP.

“I think there can be other solutions, if we look a little in the future, hydrogen is a major topic. Not only here in Germany, but in the whole of the European Union and also in other countries outside the EU,” he said, pointing out that it was technically possible for the pipeline to transport hydrogen fuel.

Vogt conceded, however, that it would take a while for the pipeline running under the Baltic Sea to find another life — with regulatory and legal procedures to run their course.

READ ALSO: OPINION – Germany has scuppered Nord Stream 2 but there are questions to answer

Plagued by controversies

Nord Stream 2, which is owned by Russian giant Gazprom, had sparked an outcry among Germany’s allies even in the planning stages several years back.

The US and especially former eastern bloc EU nations had repeatedly warned against the pipeline that bypasses Ukraine and which they say would increase Europe’s energy dependance on Russia.

Merkel’s government had obstinately pushed on with the project, viewing Russian gas as necessary in Germany’s transition to a zero-carbon future, and construction works completed in September 2021.

But with warnings already rising of Russia’s impeding assault on Ukraine, the pipeline’s fate once again hung in the balance.

With Moscow refusing to withdraw its troops from the borders with Ukraine and instead pushing ahead with its invasion, Chancellor Olaf Scholz finally put a key certification process on ice on February 22nd.

A sign for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin.

A sign for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

A week on, compounded by an onslaught of sanctions against Moscow from Western allies, the Swiss-based Nord Stream 2 filed for insolvency, laying off 106 workers.

Vogt said only about a dozen employees were based at the site in Lubmin, given it was a “highly technologised” operation.

His local authorities have also not budgeted in the expected taxes for the coming years.

But he conceded that the controversies over the years surrounding the pipeline have weighed on investor sentiments, making some question if it was safer just to stay away from a site associated with the Nord Stream project.

Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck was more strident about it, telling public television it “would have been smarter not to build Nord Stream 2”.

‘Price of civilisation’

At the tranquil seaside village of just over 2,000 inhabitants, residents are still equally torn.

Kerstin Ahrens, 60, said she was opposed to stopping the pipeline despite Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine, “because it’s such a complete waste of money.”

“It’s all terrible with Russia but I don’t find it good that we’re stopping it now,” she told AFP at the white sandy beachfront.

“Everyone had hoped that gas will be cheaper and now everything is more expensive, and there’s not all that much money up in this region,” she said.

Unlike Ahrens, another resident in the north-eastern Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania region, Heike Schulte, said the pipeline had to be halted “simply because the dependency to Russia is too great.”

And the 66-year-old says she is prepared to fork out more if that is the price to pay for ditching cheaper Russian energy.

“It’s the price of civilisation, we must live with it,” she said.

By Hui Min NEO

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POLITICS

‘Russia must not win this war,’ says Germany’s Scholz

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged once again to stand with Ukraine against Russia - but said Ukraine's bid to join the EU cannot be sped up.

'Russia must not win this war,' says Germany's Scholz

Scholz said the war in Ukraine was the greatest crisis facing the EU in its history, but that solidarity was strong. 

“We are all united by one goal: Russia must not win this war, Ukraine must prevail,” Scholz said in the speech to the Bundestag on Thursday.

Putin thinks he can use bombs to dictate the terms for peace, the SPD politician said. 

“He’s wrong. He was wrong in judging the unity of Ukrainians, and the determination of our alliances. Russia will not dictate peace because the Ukrainians won’t accept it and we won’t accept it.”

Scholz said it was only when Putin understands that he cannot break Ukraine’s defence capability that he would “be prepared to seriously negotiate peace”.

For this, he said, it is important to strengthen Ukraine’s defences. 

Scholz also pledged to help cut Europe free from its reliance on Russian energy. 

The Chancellor welcomed the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato. “With you at our side, Nato, Europe will become stronger and safer,” he said.

However, Scholz dampened expectations for Ukraine’s quick accession to the EU.

“There are no shortcuts on the way to the EU,” Scholz said, adding that an exception for Ukraine would be unfair to the Western Balkan countries also seeking membership.

“The accession process is not a matter of a few months or years,” he said.

Scholz had in April called for Western Balkan countries’ efforts to join the EU to be accelerated amid a “new era” in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last October, EU leaders at a summit in Slovenia only reiterated their “commitment to the enlargement process” in a statement that disappointed the six candidates for EU membership — Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo – who had hoped for a concrete timetable.

“For years, they have been undertaking intensive reforms and preparing for accession,” Scholz said on Thursday.

“It is not only a question of our credibility that we keep our promises to them. Today more than ever, their integration is also in our strategic interest,” he said.

The chancellor said he would be attending the EU summit at the end of May “with the clear message that the Western Balkans belong in the European Union”.

Scholz also called for other ways to help Ukraine in the short term, saying the priority was to “concentrate on supporting Ukraine quickly and pragmatically”.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has also said it will take “decades” for a candidate like Ukraine to join the EU, and suggested building a broader political club beyond the bloc that could also include Britain.

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