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Global Economy

It started with Schroeder

Against the background of the escalating Russia-Ukraine conflict, the German government stopped the approval process for the Russian-German Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline on Tuesday until further notice.

According to Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck, it would have been even wiser not to build the gas pipeline. In the daily topics he spoke of a "lump of risk from the Baltic Sea". Many experts have doubted the need for the line for years. How did it even come about? A look back.

"Flawless nepotism"

The pipeline project goes back significantly to the then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has now been built but has not yet been certified, is the successor project to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which has been in existence since 2011. On September 8, 2005, Gazprom, the BASF subsidiary Wintershall and E.ON signed the contract for the operating company – in the presence of Schröder and Russia's President Vladimir Putin.

A little later, Schröder lost the federal election with his SPD. In December 2005 it became known that he was to become the head of the supervisory board of the company operating the planned pipeline – this caused outrage. The FDP leader at the time, Guido Westerwelle, spoke of "disrespect for his former state office". Green leader Reinhard Bütikofer said: "The bottom line is that this is pure nepotism."

Criticism was also voiced in the SPD. SPD board member Hermann Scheer told the "Spiegel": "Schröder should have refrained from doing that." The then new SPD leader Matthias Platzeck saw it differently: "I think Gerhard Schröder is a man of complete integrity." It is a purely private initiative that asked the private citizen Schröder to participate.

Criticism from the EU and neighboring countries

The construction of a Baltic Sea gas pipeline was initially supported by the EU and was given the status of a "Trans-European Network" in 2000. However, this positive attitude disappeared with the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine from 2005, which led to supply failures in the EU. "With the misuse of energy as a means of political pressure, doubts about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier increased," wrote the Bundestag's scientific service in 2008.

While many neighboring countries such as Sweden, Finland and Estonia also expressed ecological concerns about the construction of the line, the project in Poland and the Ukraine met with political resistance in particular. The countries feared being cut off from gas supplies and becoming even more dependent on Russia. Criticism of the direct line between Russia and Germany has also repeatedly come from the EU over the years.

Merkel and Gabriel: Pipeline in German interest

These fears were exacerbated with the construction of the second pipeline, which runs largely parallel to Nord Stream 1. Nord Stream 2 was launched in 2015, a year after Russia annexed Crimea. The reason: The construction project makes an important contribution to the security of supply in Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her then Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel defended the construction of the pipeline: It was in Germany's interest and was also an economic project, not a political one.

In addition, there are conditions: the most important are that Russia continues to maintain the transit pipeline through Ukraine to a sufficient extent, that security of supply in Eastern Europe is guaranteed and that the project adheres to European and German rules, Gabriel said at the time.

Second pipeline before the end?

Even American threats, most clearly under President Donald Trump, did not change the federal government's pro-pipeline course. As late as December 2021, Chancellor Scholz spoke of a "private-sector project" at the EU summit.

Now the tone has changed significantly. It is currently unclear whether Nord Stream 2 will ever be put into operation, said Scholz on Tuesday in the ARD focus. The security situation for the gas supply in Europe will be re-examined.

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