Monday, December 28, 2020

Nord Stream 2: did german Federal Agency secretely grant permit for resumption of construction works?

 German newspaper BILD has learned from german association Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany) that the Bundesamt für Seeschiffahrt und Hydrographie (Federal Agency for maritime navigation and hydrography) has granted a permit to resume the halted construction of the contentious pipeline prior to concluding about objections made by the non-profit environmental association. Environmental Action Germany suspects foul play and claims that the Federal Agency is unter pressure by the german government that wants the pipeline completed by all means before sanctions of the incoming Biden administration become effective:


How far will German authorities go to comply with the wishes of Moscow and Berlin to realize the Putin pipeline Nord Stream 2 as quickly as possible?

So far, German authorities have always denied that they have been influenced in the approval process for the Russian prestige project by political actors and lobbyists of the Gazprom subsidiary Nord Stream 2 AG. The approval process is being conducted in accordance with "law and order" and is "open-ended," according to the assurances.


However, internal documents from the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) show that both the Swiss-based Nord Stream 2 AG and the responsible federal ministries seem to have a responsibility to push the controversial Russian project through quickly at all costs.

The environmental and consumer protection organization Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) requested the documents from the BSH, finally received them after much toing and froing, and made them available exclusively to BILD in order to inform the public about their explosive content.


Two examples illustrate how the office allows itself to be influenced by the pipeline project and the German government and, in the DUH's view, leaves the ground of German law in the process.


► On July 10, 2020, Nord Stream 2 AG applied to continue the pipeline pipe-laying work, which had been interrupted due to US sanctions, from the end of September until December 31, 2020. The BSH processed the application for just under three months and issued a positive decision on October 2, 2020. "In response to your request for approval (...) please find attached the modification permit," said an email from the BSH to a Nordstream 2 lawyer.

But that was not enough for the Russians.


► On October 7, the Gazprom subsidiary's lawyer got back to the BSH. Bluntly, his letter said, "In our opinion, there is no need for a modification permit because a consent (...) would be sufficient."

Consent to the Nord Stream application instead of approval of the same. What sounds almost the same to the layman makes a crucial difference, as it would later turn out. For while a formal "amendment approval" would have allowed for the possibility of third-party objections, an informal "consent" does not, according to the legal opinion of the BSH and Nord Stream 2 AG.


► The following day, October 8, 2020, an internal letter from the BSH states that the Nord Stream 2 lawyer "submitted that an amendment permit was not required, but that consent was sufficient."

A DIN-A-4 page then argues within the BSH why the Russians' lawyer was right and why the result of the BSH's three-month review was null and void. Finally, the internal memo says: "The statements of attorney (...) are to be agreed with."


► And lo and behold. Just one day later, on October 9, 2020, the BSH actually swings to the pipeline builders' line. Three months of prior review with a different outcome or not.


In an email from the BSH to the lawyer of the Russian company, it says: "You pointed out that in your opinion a modification permit is not required and a consent (...) is considered sufficient."

In this context, the BSH knows exactly what the Russians are actually after. Speed to finish the work before new US sanctions. Literally, the Federal Office(!) says that the project's lawyer is concerned with "completing the pipeline, which has been laid as far as possible, as quickly as possible and being able to put it into operation."


Unsurprisingly, even this insight does not change the BSH's decision in favor of the Russian pipeline project's legal opinion: "I therefore inform you that Nord Stream 2 AG's application dated July 10, 2020 (...) is approved."

"Nord Stream 2 AG was able to 'take precautions' here by intervening with the BSH against possible reviews by environmental groups such as DUH - and largely rule out effective legal protection," Deutsche Umwelthilfe said in a statement this week, December Christmas. A corresponding objection by DUH to a resumption of work on the pipeline was rejected on December 11, 2020, with reference to the fact that the amendment had only been "approved."


Constantin Zerger, head of energy and climate protection at DUH, told BILD that he had "great doubts about the independence of BSH" due to the events. Deutsche Umwelthilfe will therefore "fight to ensure that this procedure is carried out transparently and in compliance with environmental and climate protection requirements".

However, the BSH does not only seem to be putting its independence on the line vis-à-vis the Russians. It also seems to be making promises to the responsible Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) regarding the continued construction of the pipeline long before any legally binding decisions have been made.


The BSH is currently conducting the approval process for Nord Stream pipeline construction from January. The environmental associations NABU and DUH also want to prevent this and therefore filed and justified their objection in November. Officially, there has been no decision in the case to date - the BSH is still reviewing the case. However, the result of the examination has apparently already been determined, as can be seen from an e-mail from the BSH to the BMVI dated December 3, 2020.


It says: "The comments received from nature conservation associations are being comprehensively evaluated. Approval for this amendment is still planned for December."

A monstrosity, as Constantin Zerger of DUH finds. After all, his organization and the public have been told time and again that this is a constitutional procedure with an open outcome.


To BILD, environmentalist Zerger says: "Approval of further construction would be a Christmas present for Nord Stream 2. A German authority is playing Santa Claus - but apparently not taking the important environmental and climate protection arguments seriously."

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