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A day after the United States and Germany announced a deal allowing the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, senior officials conceded that neither the White House nor the Chancellery had the power to implement certain of its most crucial components.
As opponents of the Russian-led gas pipeline project raised a huge outcry, Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that her deal with President Joe Biden did little to resolve their political disagreements, and that many remained uncertain.
“The deal with the US government does not cement the differences, but it also does not overcome all the differences,” Merkel said at a press conference. “The differences remain. Of the deal, she added, “This is an attempt between the US government and us to set certain conditions that must also be implemented.”
“I am happy that we have succeeded so far,” continued Merkel. “And we also have a lot of work to do. “
These tasks are not negligible and include overcoming fierce opposition from some members of Congress in the United States, persuading some extremely dubious EU countries to join us and convincing Russia to liberalize its energy sector. , to part with the EUR 9.5 billion pipeline and pay Ukraine around EUR 20 billion more until 2034 to compensate for the loss of gas transit charges – which the new pipeline would effectively render unnecessary.
While some influential Germans, notably the former chancellor and current chairman of the board of Nord Stream 2, Gerhard Schröder, were instrumental in completing the pipeline, Berlin may have little or no influence over Moscow. once construction is complete and gas is flowing.
U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee who co-authored U.S. pipeline sanctions legislation, said she was “skeptical” of the deal given that “the key player at the table – Russia – refuses to play by the rules. . “
Perhaps the biggest obstacle will be political and legal challenges from the Ukrainian government, which has made it clear that it has no intention of giving in to the whims of Berlin and Washington.
On Thursday, the European Commission – which officially opposes the Nord Stream 2 project but reiterated that without a clear violation of EU law it is powerless to stop it – struggled to explain why the United States and Germany, one of the only countries in the 27 member bloc, suddenly set out to define an energy policy for the whole of the EU.
Awkwardly, this explanation began with a reaffirmation of the Commission’s position that Nord Stream 2 is generally a bad idea.
“As you know, as we have already said, Nord Stream is not a project of common European interest,” said Tim McPhie, Commission spokesperson for climate and energy policy.
“Nonetheless,” McPhie continued, “the objective of the Commission has always been to ensure that Nord Stream 2, if built, should operate in a transparent and non-discriminatory manner, with the appropriate degree of regulatory oversight and in accordance with international and European energy standards. right. “
Then, perhaps trying to convince the Commission itself, he added: “The implementation of the EU’s energy policy is the business of the EU and its Member States.
Except, apparently, when it comes to Biden, Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Merkel, for her part, insisted that Germany was committed to ensuring that “Ukraine remains a transit country and that energy cannot be used to put Ukraine in a hard situation”.
However, given the geography of Ukraine, it will inevitably remain in a difficult situation.
McPhie, the Commission spokesperson, said Brussels was happy to hear that Germany intended to comply with EU energy laws as part of its deal with Washington.
“The Commission takes note of the declaration of the German and American governments and welcomes the firm commitment of Germany to respect both the letter and the spirit of the third energy package concerning Nord Stream 2”, he added. he declares.
It remains to be seen whether the Commission will have the courage to oppose if the German energy regulator allows the pipeline to operate without fully complying with EU gas regulations – a concern often repeated by German members of the group of Greens of the European Parliament.
Klaus-Dieter Borchardt, former deputy director general of the Commission’s energy department, said in 2019 that Brussels should not accept any technical workarounds – but the Commission’s decision to intervene is technically not required.
Another question is to what extent Brussels and Berlin are now legally required to assess regulatory approval for Nord Stream 2 in the context of existing pipelines in Ukraine. Kyiv on Wednesday invoked a provision in its political association agreement with the EU, which requires consultations on energy infrastructure taking into account existing pipelines, security of supply and energy concerns.
On Thursday, the Commission said it had not yet received an official request on the matter from Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
Ukrainian officials said the formal written request had been sent to Brussels, as well as handed over to the EU representation in Kiev.
Dana Spinant, deputy spokesperson for the Commission, insisted that there would be further discussion among member countries on the US-German deal.
“We will take a closer look at the details of this political agreement announced yesterday,” Spinant said. And she brushed off a question about provisions in the deal that appear to call on the EU to provide financial assistance to Ukraine – noting that such disbursements would have to be approved as part of the EU’s normal budget process.
“Any contribution that the European Union could make to Ukraine”, she said, “will be discussed with the member states”.