Sunday

4th Dec 2022

Opinion

The moral cost of 'social peace' in Germany

  • Green party economy minister Robert Habeck has previously opposed a complete Russian energy embargo over concerns that this would endanger 'social peace' in Germany (Photo: Stefan Kaminski/Grüne im Bundestag)
Listen to article

While the inconceivable levels of depravity of the Russian army in Ukraine are exposed, the EU loyally funds its further descent into darkness.

EU member states have imported more than €30bn worth of Russian fossil fuels since the invasion started on 24 February.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The EU's ban on coal is a step in the right direction, but is not going to deliver a heavy blow to the Russian economy. A loss of €15m per day — compared to the €850m Russia will keep receiving on a daily basis for its export of gas and oil — seems like a rather small price to pay for the unimaginable suffering and loss of life in Ukraine.

Further European sanctions against the Russian energy industry remain unlikely for now, mainly because its biggest sponsor in the EU, Germany, is yet to be convinced of the need to stop feeding Putin's war chest.

German economy minister Robert Habeck has previously opposed a complete energy embargo over concerns that this would endanger 'social peace' in Germany.

It appears that, after a prudent cost-benefit analysis in light of the Russian war crimes revealed over the last weeks, this calculus still has not changed.

Germany continues to advocate 'pragmatism' when deciding on sanctions, which should "hit Putin's regime and not risk the stability of Germany", as liberal finance minister Christian Lindner said after the Bucha massacre.

It is still under the naive illusion that it can continue responding to the atrocities of Putin's war machine by endless new rounds of sanctions without ever depriving it of its main fuel.

While Ukrainian men, women and children are slaughtered in the streets, the pipelines underneath keep Germany hooked on its addiction to so-called 'cheap' Russian gas. And as it nods off on a new hit, Putin's band of war criminals moves on to the next Ukrainian village.

A rude awakening will follow whenever the Russian army commits new horrific crimes against humanity. But after a new round of self-righteous condemnation and sanctions which cautiously avoid the Russian gas sector, Germany, having done its duty, can doze off on some fresh deliveries.

Because make no mistake, there will be a next Bucha. There is no turning back from the path of moral decay; there is only the vicious spiral into more unscrupulous and depraved acts of evil.

Game Over

Germany refuses to acknowledge that the time of carefully considering economic trade-offs is long over.

It sticks to the same wilful blindness which drove Europe into Putin's web and bolstered his imperial ambitions, as the EU's biggest member state was always willing to turn a blind eye to every new Russian transgression in Ukraine, as long as the cheap gas kept flowing.

Despite all signs to the contrary, Germany kept insisting that the energy trade with Russia had nothing to do with geopolitics. Last December, chancellor Scholz affirmed that Nord Stream 2 was just a "commercial project".

The gradual phase-out of the dependence on Russian energy is not just absurd from a strategic point of view, it is also objectively wrong and immoral. European gas and oil imports are funding Putin's wicked war machine by the billions a week.

In the face of the abject horror in Ukraine, Germany's veto has become less and less tenable. If it wants to adhere to its strictly utilitarian approach, then it has to ask itself when the costs of continuing the energy trade with Russia would exceed the benefits.

What new atrocities would tip the scale in favour of an embargo on Russian oil? And on Russian gas? What line does Putin still need to cross first? Is there a number of schools, hospitals to be bombed? Massacres to be committed?

Germany's reluctance to impose stringent sanctions on the Russian energy industry has nothing to do with pragmatism, and everything with sustaining its addiction to Russian gas. And as an addict true to its nature, Germany refuses to give up its destructive habit, even when confronted with its ruinous, blood-smeared consequences.

The time for Wandel durch Handel ['Change through Trade'] and Ostpolitik [rapprochement with East Germany/the Warsaw Pact] is over.

The Baltic states have led the way. Germany can keep leading by veto and postpone the inevitable, or finally act as the self-declared leader of the EU it claims to be. There is no doubt that this will come at a serious cost, but true leadership has never been about making the easy decisions when the good times roll. It is about making the hard decisions when the music has stopped. History will thank Germany for it.

Author bio

Simon Dekeyrel is climate & energy policy analyst at the Sustainable Prosperity for Europe Programme of the European Policy Centre, the Brussels-based think tank. He is also completing a PhD on the contemporary evolution of EU energy policy with a specific focus on the EU's dependence on Russian gas.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Column

Europe should help Germany, not lambast it over Ukraine crisis

For many Europeans it may be weird to hear German citizens tell phone-in programmes that "with weapons you cannot create peace" - as if Ukraine would be wrong to defend itself against an enormous military threat posed by Russia.

Magazine

German wind energy stumbles

A case study: red tape, "Not In My Back Yard" (NIMBYs), and Green vs Green conflicts are putting brake on Germany's rapid wind expansion.

Column

Some lessons from George Orwell

"Pure pacifism can only appeal to people in very sheltered positions." While reading George Orwell's essay The Lion and The Unicorn, one must pinch oneself at times: this could have been written today. Instead, Orwell wrote these lines in 1941.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU must break Orbán's veto on a tax rate for multinationals
  2. Belarus dictator's family loves EU luxuries, flight data shows
  3. How Berlin and Paris sold-out the EU corporate due diligence law
  4. Turkey's EU-funded detention centres ripe with abuse: NGO
  5. In green subsidy race, EU should not imitate US
  6. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  7. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  8. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us