20 November 2019
Last week lovers of freedom everywhere celebrated the anniversary of the Berlin wall’s destruction. Who would have thought then that 30 years after the collapse of Soviet-Inspired socialism a new Russian threat would be working its way insidiously into the heart of our economic life.
In Germany, one construction - a wall - had come to represent the iron-fisted dictatorship of communism.
And now a new construction - another pipeline - threatens to poison the well of our democracy and become the emblem of the Western Europe’s betrayal of Ukraine and our eroded freedoms.
With Denmark’s withheld approval now delivered, Nord Stream 2 is set to drive a final nail into the coffin of EU energy security.
It represents an addictive needle and a splitting wedge to the EU economic and political integrity. In other words, everything Putin would like to accomplish. The Russian autocrat wants to use entryism to debase and then direct our economic needs - and this is his Trojan Horse.
Perhaps it is a measure of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s influence on German politics that no law yet exists that would allow him to be tried for his part in the scandal. Days after being voted out, but before departing office, he quickly signed the German state up to a contract with Gazprom. He then accepted a job with Gazprom weeks later.
But there are also ethical questions surrounding Nord Stream 2. Slave labour and wide-scale environmental harm are on the charge sheet too. Russian based campaigners gulagu.net (no to Gulags) cite evidence that Russia employs up to 1,000 prisoners in the construction of Nord Stream.
MEPs recently heard how they were enslaved below the minimum wage for 15 hours a day, working in the heaviest stages of construction. In a chilling echo of Europe’s tragic past, the prisoners are also said to be used in sewing clothes for Gazprom employees.
Alongside social guarantees, promoting the environment is Europe’s other current slogan du jour. However, if the EU already intends to become completely carbon neutral in its strategic vision by 2050, how does that square with gas pipeline investments to import from a country where production methods are so environmentally damaging?
Gas may be seen as a more environmentally friendly fossil fuel, but we need to analyse the methods of gauging its ecological footprint. We can be reasonably confident green technology and production methods are not Russian priorities.
The new Commission President may trumpet a proposed carbon frontier mechanism - in fact a tax on goods from environmentally unfriendly third countries. But she avoids saying whether this would also apply to the gas that would flow to Germany.
Russia and Germany insist Nord Stream is a business, not a political project. But the commercial gains of some companies in Germany create much wider and significant political damage to the EU.
By January 1st, when the new pipeline is due to be completed, political nerves will be on edge. When you look at the war in Eastern Ukraine, it is noticeable that it manages to keep its distance from the main gas transit pipelines, leaving them safe given their importance to Russia, today. But what happens when Nord Stream 2 is up and running?
The previous European Parliament did everything in its power to oppose the scheme. Sadly, MEPs do not have a legal way to suspend the project.
However, what will Germany’s argument be if it turns out to be true that Russia is enslaving its own people in this joint Nord Stream project?
And what will be the arguments of the participating Member States, and their businesses not only in Germany but also in France, Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands and elsewhere, formed by the Nord Stream Project Consortium?
Are their governments and citizens prepared to continue working with a partner tainted not only politically and ecologically, but also socially?
How far can interests outweigh values? The closer we get to completion of Nord Stream 2, the more it becomes apparent how unethical this project is.
The project spells the end of the European Energy Union and all its beautifully-defined goals and means Europe has missed the opportunity to geopolitically diversify its energy supply channels.
It exposes ambivalence in politics and exacerbates mistrust and inconsistency both between EU Member States and with the US - and how ironic that they are now the biggest defenders of the EU’s Energy Union and its energy security.
At the end of it all, the only winner is Moscow.
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