Nevertheless, the cost-benefit analysis for Germany may ultimately turn out to be negative. The German government hasn’t made any friends in Brussels with its behavior. “Many in the EU are angry,” says Jean Asselborn, Luxembourg’s foreign minister.
The negative sentiment stoked by the pipeline’s construction could diminish Germany’s influence in Europe. Merkel encountered this recently at the EU Summit in late June. Together with French President Emmanuel Macron, she surprised other countries with the suggestion of holding a summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. The push failed, however, when Poland and the Baltic States, in particular, rejected it. “Germany,” says one EU diplomat, “is now viewed as being close to Russia due to Nord Stream 2.”
This comes as no surprise for Reinhard Bütikofer, the EU policy specialist for the Green Party. “Germany can’t lead effectively in the EU if it pursues interests that run counter to those of its neighbors and allies,” he says. But he argues that Berlin flagrantly disregarded this principle in the case of Nord Stream 2. “You could almost say that the German government is pursuing a Germany-first policy here,” he says.
It’s now almost certain that the pipeline will be completed. The open question now is how long it will continue operating once it goes online. The Green Party, which will potentially be part of the next government after this autumn’s federal elections, categorically reject Nord Stream 2.
And some in Merkel’s CDU are hopeful they will be able to boycott the project after the election. Roderich Kieswetter, a foreign policy expert in the Christian Democrats’ parliamentary group, wrote in a “handout on Russia issues” meant to serve as talking points for the election campaign for the federal parliament that “Nord Stream 2 is primarily a geopolitical project with which Russia aims to, above all else, eliminate Ukraine from the transit of gas to Europe.” He argues that the pipeline opens the option for Moscow, “of raising political and military pressure on Ukraine without endangering its gas business with Western Europe.”
Even if he essentially takes the same stance as Merkel, CDU party boss and chancellor candidate Armin Laschet, has left a backdoor open. During a recent debate with the two other candidates for chancellor, Laschet said that there were rules that had been agreed with Putin, and that if the Russian leader was to use Nord Stream 2 against Ukraine, the project could be stopped at any time, even if it is completed.
After all, he said, the commercial basis for the pipeline would then no longer exist. “It’s that simple.”