The United States and the European Union (EU) are at odds over more than just the Iran nuclear deal – tensions surrounding energy policy have also become a flashpoint for the two global powerhouses.
In energy policy, the U.S. has been opposing the Gazprom-led and highly controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which will follow the existing Nord Stream natural gas pipeline between Russia and Germany via the Baltic Sea. EU institutions and some EU members such as Poland and Lithuania are also against it, but one of the leaders of the EU and the end-point of the planned project—Germany— supports Nord Stream 2 and sees the project as a private commercial venture that will help it to meet rising natural gas demand.
While the U.S. has been hinting this year that it could sanction the project and the companies involved in it—which include not only Gazprom but also major European firms Shell, Engie, OMV, Uniper, and Wintershall—Germany has just said that Washington shouldn’t interfere with Europe’s energy choices and policies.
“I don’t want European energy policy to be defined in Washington,” Germany’s Deputy Foreign Ministrer Andreas Michaelis said at a conference on trans-Atlantic ties in Berlin this week.
Germany has to consult with its European partners regarding the project, Michaelis said, and noted, as quoted by Reuters, that he was “certainly not willing to accept that Washington is deciding at the end of the day that we should not rely on Russian gas and that we should not complete this pipeline project.”
In July this year, U.S. President Donald Trump said at a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg that “Germany is a captive of Russia because they supply.”
“Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting from 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline,” President Trump said.
Germany continues to see Nord Stream 2 as a commercial venture, although it wants clarity on the future role of Ukraine as a transit route, German government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said last month.
Nord Stream 2 is designed to bypass Ukraine, and Ukraine fears it will lose transit fees and leverage over Russia as the transit route for its gas to western Europe.
Poland, one of the most outspoken opponents of Nord Stream 2, together with the United States, issued a joint statement last month during the visit of Polish President Andrzej Duda to Washington, in which the parties said, “We will continue to coordinate our efforts to counter energy projects that threaten our mutual security, such as Nord Stream 2.”
The United States looks to sell more liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the European market, including to Germany, to help Europe diversify its energy supply, which is becoming increasingly dependent on Russian supplies.
The president of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), Dieter Kempf, however, told German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung last month, that he had “a big problem with a third country interfering in our energy policy,” referring to the United States. German industry needs Nord Stream 2, and dropping the project to buy U.S. LNG instead wouldn’t make any economic sense, he said. U.S. LNG currently is not competitive on the German market and would simply cost too much, according to Kempf.
The lower price of Russian pipeline gas to Europe is a key selling point—and one that Gazprom uses often. Earlier this month Alexey Miller, Chairman of Gazprom’s Management Committee, said at a gas forum in Russia that “Although much talk is going on about new plans for LNG deliveries, there is no doubt that pipeline gas supplies from Russia will always be more competitive than LNG deliveries from any other part of the world. It goes without saying.”
The issue with Nord Stream 2—which is already being built in German waters—is that it’s not just a commercial project. Many in Europe and everyone in the United States see it as a Russian political tool and a means to further tighten Russia’s grip on European gas supplies, of which it already holds more than a third. But Germany wants to discuss the future of this project within the European Union, without interference from the United States.