1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Nord Stream 2 — Angela Merkel’s damaging legacy

Portrait of a man with blue eyes in a shirt and jacket, Majdan Square in the Ukrainian capital Kiev can be seen in the background
Frank Hofmann
July 22, 2021

Berlin's pipeline policy with Russia is an indictment of German foreign policy and has divided the West. Germany must now regain trust — and stand by Ukraine, says Frank Hofmann.

A large vessel surrounded by smaller boats in the port of Wismar, Germany
The Russian pipe-laying vessel Fortuna has been at work on the Baltic Sea for monthsImage: Jens Buettner/AP/picture alliance

So now it's on after all: Vladimir Putin's bet against German and European climate policy.

Consumers and the next German government have the power to decide who wins: Do we succumb to the sweet poison of cheap gas from Russia or does Germany swiftly expand renewable energies to counter the flow of climate-damaging gas?

The damage done to foreign policy can only be repaired with an equally clear stance. This German-Russian pipeline, constructed by Moscow's money machine Gazprom, has divided Europe and the West. The German chancellor, with her long-standing argument that this is a purely economic project, is responsible for the damage done to Germany's foreign policy. It was pursued against the will of the European Parliament, against the insistence of its closest friends — France, the Scandinavian countries, the Baltic states and, above all, Poland. And finally, against the will of the US Congress.

Frank Hofmann
DW editor Frank Hofmann

This policy has also signaled a departure from two hitherto reliable constants of German foreign policy: Whether pursued by foreign policy hawks like Willy Brandt (SPD) or doves like Helmut Kohl (CDU), Germany first stands at the side of its closest friends and partners and pursues interest-based policy from here. This was true even when Britain and France had doubts about whether German unification was such a good idea. Germany first convinced Paris and then sealed it with the Two-Plus-Four Treaty.

Angela Merkel's desperate maneuvering

Merkel's actions regarding the Russian gas pipeline, on the other hand, are a desperate maneuver to somehow squeeze out of an intractable dilemma. Lest it be forgotten: Putin and his followers are building pipelines as a geopolitical tool to blackmail Ukraine.

At least Germany and the outgoing chancellor can count their blessings that after the dark years of Donald Trump's presidency. Foreign policy professionals in Washington have shown a way out of the convoluted situation, notwithstanding strong bipartisan opposition in the US Congress. To Merkel's credit, her standing among Washington's political elite certainly helped. Beyond that, her efforts to keep the Minsk peace process afloat helped to save lives along the eastern Ukrainian frontline and ensured that Kyiv retains at least a modicum of trust in her — but that's about all.

infographic of Nordstream pipeline

Germany must deliver now

Germany needs to get its act together and return to a reliable and trustworthy foreign policy. There can only be an operating permit for Nord Stream 2 with an unequivocal contract that ensures that Russia cannot financially dry up Ukraine as a gas transit country — one that goes beyond the current Russian-Ukrainian agreement that expires after 2024.

Above all, Berlin must bid farewell to the geopolitical naiveté of recent years and join forces with our friends in Paris to represent Europe's common interests. That means using the gas valve of the transfer station in Lubmin, in the foothills of Pomerania, for what it's meant for. It's not merely a technical link in the chain of an economic project, but a geopolitical power tool. It can be turned in two directions: open and closed.

Nothing has changed in this respect since the first gas pipe deals between the West German industry giant Mannesmann and Moscow in the 1970s. They flanked Willy Brandt's hawkish policy of change through rapprochement and were one of the many building blocks that ultimately gave East Germans the opportunity to liberate themselves from the communist regime. Given her provenance, it's particularly disturbing that Merkel failed to see this from the start.