The World From Berlin On Nord Stream Pipeline, 'Germany Must Take a Selfish Stand'

The Swedish and Finnish governments have finally consented to the construction of an ambitious new gas pipeline from Russia to Central Europe after years of opposition. German commentators welcome the removal of this last obstacle to the project but express reservations about Russian geopolitical ambitions.

Shipping out: Construction on the controversial, undersea Nord Stream pipeline may begin next year, now that Sweden and Finland have consented to it in their maritime territory.

Shipping out: Construction on the controversial, undersea Nord Stream pipeline may begin next year, now that Sweden and Finland have consented to it in their maritime territory.

Denmark already said "yes" around a fortnight ago. Then on Thursday, fellow Scandinavian states Finland and Sweden also agreed. Which means that, after years of assessment and negotiation, construction on Russia's controversial Nord Stream gas pipeline can begin early next year.

Sweden was the second of the five countries involved to agree to the pipeline, which, by 2012, should be able to transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas a year from Vyborg, Russia, to Greifswald on the German coast. It will do so via two parallel pipelines around 1,223 kilometers (760 miles) long. Although there has been widespread opposition to the undersea pipeline in Sweden, for both environmental reasons (there are fears it will interfere with the marine ecosystem and harm fish stocks) and political ones (concerns about a Russian presence in Swedish territory), the nation will now get 506 kilometers' worth of the Nord Stream pipeline within its maritime borders.

Although approval is still required from Finnish environmental officers, Finland also approved the pipeline on principle only a few hours after the Swedish acquiescence. The final Finnish approvals are expected by the end of the year. And although Germany and Russia are still to give the green light to the pipeline, this is seen as a formality; their approvals are also expected by the end of 2009.

In announcing their consent, both the Finnish and Swedish governments say that Nord Stream has agreed to take all possible measures to avoid environmental disruption.

Last winter, a pricing dispute over gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine saw supplies to Europe disrupted. The new Baltic pipeline is meant to make the supply of gas to the European Union, which currently gets the majority of its Russian gas via Ukraine, easier and help avoid further disruptions, should the two nations get into another fight over the gas bill.

In Germany, media commentators Friday were quietly pleased that the pipeline approvals had come through. After all, Germany will benefit from the gas it delivers. Additionally, although there are concerns about Russian control of the gas pipeline, the EU will no longer be a pawn in any disputes between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, German commentators could not easily dismiss Scandinavian misgivings about environmental problems the pipeline might cause as well as the Russian geo-political ambitions that may have motivated the pipeline.

Business daily Handelsblatt writes:

"This pipeline project is ambitious but embattled. From the beginning, Eastern European and Scandinavian voices have expressed their misgivings -- both environmental and security-related. But Germany must take a selfish stand on this. In terms of a secure delivery of natural gas for us, the fact that construction of this pipeline can finally begin, after years of assessment, is good news."

"The pipeline consortium and the German politicians did well to take concerns about the pipeline seriously and to address them properly. But in the final summing up, Western Europe cannot be too considerate. Bottlenecks in delivery -- because the supply is interrupted in Ukraine, for example -- are unacceptable. The West cannot continuously be held hostage to Russian-Ukrainian disputes."

"But won't this pipeline make us even more dependent on Russian gas? It would make sense to find another source. And the Nabucco pipeline is also important in securing Europe's gas supplies. But as it is, worries about the Baltic Sea pipeline are unfounded. At the moment, the Russians, who are footing almost half of the bill for the pipeline, are more interested in getting gas flowing through those pipes and keeping it that way."

Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Because the project went through their exclusive economic zones in the Baltic Sea, Stockholm and Helsinki could have stopped the pipeline under international nautical law, giving environmental reasons as justification. In fact, for years this was the reason given. For example, in February 2008, the Swedish government returned the applications made by Nord Stream to the company, saying that they were completely inadequate."

"And now Stockholm and Helsinki have agreed to the pipeline, despite their environmental reservations. But this is because of the massive political pressurethat was put on them. Politicians from both Berlin and Moscow have been to see the Scandinavians more than once and have impressed upon them the importance of this project."

"It has been suggested that Moscow chose this more difficult, less environmentally friendly route over a cheaper, shorter overland route through the Baltic states and Poland solely on the basis of political reasons. Additionally, up until now nobody has any experience with the construction of a pipeline like this under the Baltic Sea, or indeed, in any other comparable sea. Bengt-Erik Bengtsson, an ocean toxicologist at Stockholm University, has already called it a 'gigantic environmental experiment.'"

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"These three Scandinavian neighbors had ongoing concerns about the Baltic Sea pipeline -- but none that could have stopped its progress. Environmental problems were really the only thing that they could have had genuine complaints about -- but even here, international law would not have allowed them to block the project."

"So the compliance of Sweden and Finland, shortly after Denmark agreed to the pipeline too, is really just their acceptance of the inevitable. And it leaves something of a bitter taste in their mouths. Because just like the three Baltic nations and the Poles, the Scandinavians would have liked to be included in an energy partnership with their two larger neighbors, the neighbors who have basically left them behind in this field."

"The smaller countries are not totally blameless in this state of affairs. In the 1990s, motivated by security concerns, Finland doggedly tried to connect its gas pipeline network to Norway, via Sweden, in a bid to get connected to the rest of the European continent. But Sweden kept blocking the move, because it wanted nothing to do with gas."

-- Cathrin Schaer


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