20th May 2019

EU needs Baltic Sea gas pipe, German ex-leader says

The Baltic Sea gas pipe will bolster EU energy security and will not hurt the environment, ex-German chancellor turned Gazprom employee Gerhard Schroeder said in Brussels on Wednesday (7 February), defending one of the most divisive projects in the EU today.

"I have no problem in taking part in a project that helps the security of supply of all of Europe," the chairman of Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream - which is developing the project - said. "Wherever I can be helpful in talks with individuals [at a political level] I will do my best."

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"It is an EU and a Russia project of a size that has never been completed before," Mr Schroeder went on, amid plans to seek European Investment Bank funding to help meet the costs of the €12 billion scheme. "We're seeing Europe and Russia working together like never before in the past."

The 1,200km pipe, from Vyborg in Russia to Greifswald in Germany, will carry 55 billion cubic metres of gas a year - over 10 percent of EU consumption at present levels - with an environmental impact assessment due in mid-2007, the first metal to hit the seabed in 2008 and gas deliveries to start in 2010.

Nord Stream shareholders include German firms E.ON and BASF, with the Netherlands' Gasunie expected to join in spring and with some gas to be trans-shipped from Germany to the UK, the Netherlands and France. The firm on Wednesday also said it is "technically possible" to build a branch link to Poland.

But Poland strongly dislikes Nord Stream despite its international dimension, saying it destroys EU "energy solidarity" and could see Russia put political pressure on the former communist EU member states by cutting off land-based gas flows in future.

Last year, one Polish minister compared the pipe to the wartime Molotov-Ribbentrop pact to partition Poland. Last week, Polish prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski said one of the key reasons for worsening Polish-German relations is that he keeps hearing "the pipeline will be built."

The Baltic States and Sweden have also raised environmental and security concerns about the project, which will see heavy construction work on top of WWI and WWII seabed ammunition dumps in the Baltic that contain dangerous chemical weapons.

"If there is contact with water, the mustard gas will form nodules that will stay more or less we do not fear any explosion," Nord Stream director Dirk von Ameln said, based on preliminary studies.

"We are taking everybody's concerns very seriously," Mr Schroeder added, on the Swedish foreign ministry's worry that the Russian military might exploit pipeline infrastructure to set up listening posts on the Nordic country's doorstep.

Schroeder pragmatism

The German ex-chancellor caused a furore at home when he took the lucrative Gazprom job in 2005 just weeks after brokering the pipeline deal at government level. Current chancellor Angela Merkel has backed the pipe, but has frostier relations with Russia's Mr Putin, once described by Mr Schroeder as a "crystal-clear democrat."

Mr Schroeder on Wednesday pushed the Russian line that recent supply shocks with Belarus and Ukraine - which damaged Russia's reputation as a reliable supplier in the EU - are "purely economic" and had no political dimension, while stressing that "Russia provided energy in the Cold War and there were never any problems with supplies."

But the ex-chancellor also showed glimpses of the canny pragmatism that characterised his foreign policy while still in power and which continues to function inside the German government in the person of foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier - Mr Schroeder's ex-cabinet chief.

"Where are the alternatives to Russia?" Mr Schroeder asked in the context of soaring EU gas imports, mentioning Algeria, Libya, Qatar, Nigeria and international pariah Iran. "You have to think if this would be politically better than Russia. My that as far as security and stability of supply goes, Russia is the best option."

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