Born in 1952, Janusz Reiter was the Polish Ambassador to Germany from 1990 to 1995 and to the US from 2005 to 2007. Under then Prime Minister Donald Tusk, he advised his government as a climate ambassador and is now chairman of the Warsaw Center for International Relations.
No, there will be no natural gas shortage in Germany if Nord Stream 2 is discontinued. The companies involved are of course concerned. The real problem, however, is fear of a crisis in German-Russian relations and uncertainty about its consequences. But if it is repeated so often that crises also offer opportunities, why should this not apply now?
Nord Stream 2 was a product of Russia’s geopolitical strategy and Germany’s seemingly apolitical denial. A concept that was shaky from the start, but the design flaws have now come to light. Failure would undoubtedly cause resentment in relations with Moscow, but at the same time it would put pressure on Germany and its partners to develop a joint strategy for Russia and Eastern Europe and give European energy policy a try.
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France’s behavior gives hope. President Macron is apparently ready to take a common course with Germany. Great Britain, still an important European power despite Brexit, is very likely to support Germany. The eastern neighbors would breathe a sigh of relief if Germany said goodbye to Nord Stream 2.
There is no reason to be malicious
However, they must refrain from malicious pleasure. One can also hope for Washington. As oppressive as it is that the US is currently not fulfilling its traditional role of leading power in the West, one thing can be relied upon: a demonstration of European unity would also impress US politics. That would not be a bad condition for a new beginning in transatlantic relations after the November elections.
Nord Stream 2 is a German project. It divided Europe and caused irritation in German-American relations. Most European critics have kept their reservations because they didn’t want to mess with Germany. In any case, an exit should be designed in such a way that old trenches are filled in and new ideas arise at the same time. Above all, three countries must take the lead: Germany, France and Poland – even if it is by no means certain that Warsaw will participate.
The earlier participation in Nord Stream 2 was sometimes seen as a sign of German strength. The price was that Europe as a whole again gave the impression of weakness – not just in Russia. That, in turn, cannot be in the interests of Germany. It is high time we agreed in Europe that the continent’s weakness is hurting everyone, including Americans.
Under no illusions: a strategy does not come about overnight, certainly not when it comes to the historically and psychologically most complex area of European foreign policy, relations with Russia and Eastern Europe. But if it happens at all, then not in scientific seminars, but under pressure from events.
Internal oppression, external aggression
One should start with a self-critical balance. How do we deal with a Russia that is becoming increasingly repressive internally and more aggressive externally? Moscow does not need and will not learn to love Europe, but what can we do to make sure it respects Europe?
The aim of European efforts cannot be to achieve a Russia of dreams, but rather to create the conditions to work together confidently and with a clear definition of own interests. If it is possible to reach a common German-Franco-Polish position on this issue, it would be an encouraging sign of Europe’s ability to act. Not using Nord Stream 2 would also offer new opportunities in energy policy, both politically and psychologically.
Europe does well to guarantee its gas supply on a safe basis. The network of LNG terminals is now so extensive that we as customers have a strong competitive position. On electricity supply, we now have a de facto consensus in favor of renewable energy sources. What we need is more interconnectivity to contribute to security of supply and to reduce costs.
A European hydrogen strategy can also increase the competitiveness of the EU economy. We are facing one of the most difficult decisions in European politics in recent years. Especially in Germany itself it is neither natural nor risk free. But it also offers opportunities that Europe should not miss in the current difficult global political situation.