France has signalled its opposition to a controversial gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, raising the odds that Brussels will bring the project to a halt.
The €9.5 billion Nord Stream 2 scheme involves running two pipelines beneath the Baltic in addition to an existing pair, bypassing Ukraine and several other states in eastern Europe.
The project is staunchly opposed by the US and most of Germany’s regional allies, including Britain and Poland, on the grounds that it will tighten Moscow’s grip on Europe’s energy supply. The American ambassador to Germany recently threatened to push for sanctions on the companies involved.
France has now indicated that it will join efforts to stop Nord Stream 2 by rewriting the European Union’s gas regulations. Its apparent change of heart comes scarcely a fortnight after a Franco-German treaty that was supposed to meld the two countries’ foreign and economic policies.
Sources in President Macron’s government told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the heavy involvement of Gazprom raised “strategic problems” for Europe. The energy company, which is majority-owned by the Russian state, will operate the pipelines and supply the gas that flows through them. “We do not want to increase our reliance on Russia and so harm the interests of EU states such as Poland or Slovakia,” a French official said.
Germany already imports 55 billion cubic metres of gas, accounting for 8 per cent of its electricity consumption, through the existing Nord Stream pipelines, which run for 750 miles from Vyborg in western Russia to Greifswald, on the coast of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.
Nord Stream 2, which follows a largely similar route, will double the system’s capacity. Half of its length has already been laid and the taps may be turned on as early as November. Germany will only use about a fifth of the extra gas supply, with the rest being sold on to other European countries.
Several of its neighbours have tried to stymie the plans by changing the EU’s gas directive to subject Nord Stream 2 to the same rules that govern pipelines within the bloc. This would effectively allow Brussels to step in and break up Gazprom’s control of the project.
Berlin has fought back, building a blocking minority in Brussels that includes Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, Gustav Gressel, a senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said France’s intervention would decisively tip the balance against Germany. “It’s the end of the line,” he said. “They can’t do anything about it. If the amendment goes through, Gazprom would have to change the contract and would probably back out of it.”