ohLAF SCHOLZ and Joe Biden seems to be destined to have as cordial a relationship as Angela Merkel and Barack Obama. The new German Chancellor and the US President are both Atlanticists in the center-left of their respective political specters and committed to the fight against climate change. Mr. Scholz called America “Europe’s closest and most important partner”. As finance minister, he got along well with the Biden administration.
Even so, a geopolitical conundrum casts a great shadow over the relationship. Nord Stream 2, a recently completed 1,230 km (764 miles) submarine natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, is fiercely opposed by the US Congress. Mr Biden is also opposed to it, but lifted sanctions in May to avoid a row with a close ally. If Republican senators have what they want, he may be forced to impose it after all.
Led by Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas, Republicans in the Senate are pushing for new sanctions via an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). On December 1, the Senate was due to vote 21 amendments to the NDAA, including the one involving the NOT.2 sanctions. But the vote was delayed because The Economist went to press, as Republicans tried to add even more amendments. Mr Cruz and his allies are also blocking the appointments of dozens of foreign policy officials, including US ambassadors to Germany, Israel and Egypt, to increase pressure on Mr Biden.
Many American lawmakers opposed NOT.2 since Gazprom, the state-controlled Russian gas giant, partnered with five European energy companies in 2015 to build it along an existing pipeline under the Baltic Sea, at a cost of $ 9.5 billion ‘euros ($ 11 billion). They fear that the new pipeline, which doubles Russia’s ability to export gas to Germany, will increase Europe’s dependence on Russian energy. They fear that this will deprive Ukraine (and Poland) of transit fees of around $ 2 billion a year for existing pipelines that cross their territory, and make it easier for Russia to reduce gas supplies to Russia. winter of eastern Ukraine. And they argue that the current infrastructure already provides sufficient capacity for Europe’s energy needs. American opposition to NOT.2 is further fueled by Russia’s military build-up on its border with Ukraine.
The Germans argue that the pipeline does not pose a threat to Ukraine as long as the so-called “joint declaration” is implemented. It is an agreement reached in July by Angela Merkel, the outgoing chancellor, and Mr Biden, in which Germany pledged to take measures, in particular by imposing EU sanctions, if Russia used energy as a weapon against Ukraine. The statement also states that Russia must honor its gas transit agreement with Ukraine and extend it beyond 2024 for up to ten years. Germany has appointed a special envoy to help renegotiate the transit agreement.
However, the pipeline encountered new problems. In addition to growing pressure from Congress, in mid-November, the German energy regulator suspended the pipeline certification process. He said that in order to obtain a business license, the NOT.2 consortium was to first form a German subsidiary under German company law, which will introduce a delay.
Germany’s broad coalition agreement does not directly mention NOT.2. It only says that European energy law “applies to energy projects in Germany”. Annalena Baerbock, co-leader of the Green Party soon to be foreign minister, is a vocal critic of the pipeline. Last month, she accused Russia of trying to blackmail the German government into allowing NOT.2 to start pumping gas keeping gas prices high. Yet in the end, it will likely be Mr Scholz who will decide his government’s stance on the pipeline. The leaders of his Social Democratic Party support the pipeline, which they say improves Europe’s energy security. The pipeline still looks likely to move forward, but a return to the harmony of the Merkel-Obama era is far away. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “High pressure shading”