Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Nord Stream 2: Germany's indifference to US positions and the unpleasant surprise of sanctions

 An interesting op-ed piece in the german newspaer "WELT" by Matthew Karnitschnig Chief Europe Correspondent of Politico: 

"If there is one thing that the American president has been extremely adept at since his inauguration in 2016, it is getting under Germany's skin. This is the case with transatlantic trade policy, with defense spending and also with the controversial German-Russian gas project Nord Stream 2.
The latest outburst of anger was triggered in early August by a letter sent by three US senators who supported Trump to the operator of a Baltic port in the constituency of Chancellor Angela Merkel. The senators threatened the port managers with "devastating legal and economic sanctions" if they continued to support the pipeline project by supplying the Russian ships that are building the pipeline. 
The German reaction was quick and furious. Manuela Schwesig, the Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, called the letter "completely unacceptable". The Green Jürgen Trittin spoke of an “economic declaration of war”, while SPD parliamentary group leader Carsten Schneider spoke of a “neo-imperialist signature”. 
The incident shows once again that if there is one thing that unites the Germans, it is their hatred of the American president. The only problem is that hate made them blind. 
Trump's antics, his strange relationship with his German origins and generally his outrageous behavior are a temptation to dismiss everything he says or does. 
But Trump is not the only opponent of the German pipeline deal with Russia, a deal that allows Moscow to bypass Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe and deliver gas directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea. 
Critics warn that the pipeline, the second of its kind between Germany and Russia, makes Europe too dependent on Russian gas supplies; it would be a new lever for Moscow's European policy. 
Countries from the Baltic states to Poland to Slovakia have been urging Berlin to abandon the project for years. At the same time, Trump's attempts to stop the project are supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, a rare sign of bipartisanism in a deeply divided American Congress. 
That is one reason why the senators' letter could not have been a surprise to the German government or the port operator. After Congress decided in July to extend the scope of the relevant sanctions, the rhetorical shot by the senators was all but inevitable. 
The German media emphasized that the port is in the coastal town of Sassnitz, which in turn belongs to Angela Merkel's constituency. But since Sassnitz is the port used by the Russian ships involved in the construction - only 150 of the 2,350-kilometer project are not yet finished - the connection to Merkel is probably more of a coincidence. 
But either way, the real question is why Germany's political class feigns shock and horror in the face of sanctions that were known to be coming. 
The reaction is typical of how Berlin reacted to criticism of the project from the start. In short, the tactic has been to focus on the form, not the substance 
For years the Chancellor refused to deal with critics of the project, repeatedly saying that the project was a purely business matter, and repeatedly suggesting that political intervention was inappropriate. 
Despite objections from the US, the Chancellor's tactics worked - at least until Trump took the stage. 
Ever since he came into office, Trump has tirelessly emphasized the inherent contradiction in the German position: How can Germans expect the US to provide them with military support while at the same time doing lucrative gas deals with Russia - the country they need to be protected from? 
To date, Berlin has not even tried to seriously answer this question. Neither Russia's hacking attack on the Bundestag nor the assassination of a Chechen rebel commissioned in Moscow in broad daylight in Berlin have led Germany to rethink the project. 
Instead, German government representatives have remained in defense; America's objections were answered by sowing doubts about American motives and tactics. "The Americans really don't care about Russia, they just want to sell us their fracking gas," is the refrain used in Berlin, a reference to the US boom in the extraction of natural gas from shale, which is rejected in Germany for environmental reasons. 
In addition, the Germans argue, the extraterritorial sanctions that the US intends to impose on all institutions that have to do with Nord Stream 2 are not only questionable, but also illegal under international law. 
Such arguments are based on the widespread German stereotypes of taboo American capitalism and supposed American arrogance. 
You helped the German supporters of Nord Stream 2 - a broad, non-partisan coalition of political and economic forces - to avoid answering the question of why the project should be worth the German relationship with the US and other important ones Endangering allies. 
Nor did the supporters explain why it is acceptable for Russia to pursue for-profit motives with the project, while it should be somehow offensive if the US wants to prevent it for the same reasons. 
In short, they managed to turn Nord Stream 2 into a debate about Trump. 
Even accepting the argument that Trump's negative stance stems from a desire to sell American gas to Europe doesn't change the more fundamental concerns. 
The majority opinion in political and media circles in Germany is that both the threat of sanctions on Nord Stream 2 and the decision to withdraw 12,000 soldiers from Germany are little more than a petty attempt by the US President to appeal to Merkel to reject her participation to return the favor at the G7 summit in Washington this fall. 
But that's wrong. Both German and American government representatives have been quietly confirming that the Pentagon has been quietly preparing the withdrawal of troops since the beginning of the year and, contrary to what the German side has publicly claimed, it has also warned Berlin in advance. And the American sanction plans for Nord Stream 2 had long been in the works when Merkel told Trump in May that they would not come. 
Germany has become so obsessed with its own dislike of Trump that it has lost sight of how it is perceived by key officials in the US - the country that, like it or not, remains Germany's most important partner, both strategically as well as in trading 
Many government leaders seem to think they can sit out the storm until November - and that after that, if the polls are correct and Trump loses, things will return to normal. That is almost certainly naive. 
Until his death in 2018, the US Senator John McCain, certainly not a friend of Trump and no enemy of Germany, made no secret of his frustration with Berlin's intransigence at Nord Stream 2. He teamed up with colleagues and urged his own government to "To use all available means" to derail the project. 
That made McCain no outsider. Another former US Senator and longtime McCain confidante shares the concerns: Joe Biden. Biden criticized the project even after his time as vice president."


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