“We are the makers of our own fate” said Christian Lindner (FDP), German Federal Minister of Finance, in a TV interview this week. He was referring to Germany’s rather delicate position in the coming months leading up to winter, torn between Russian gas on the one side and energy independence on the other.
Where did this dilemma start?
You could say it began a few weeks ago, when Russia started pumping considerably less gas to Germany than it normally receives. The Russian energy provider Gazprom decreased its delivery drastically to 40 per cent of the original amount – a blunt hit for the German economy and households alike.
The reason for this was cited to be ‘technical problems’, but it is hard not to think that there were also political motivations involved as a result of Germany’s support for Ukraine and its outspoken condemnation of the Russian invasion.
Or, you could say the dilemma began a few months ago in April, when chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended Nord Stream 2. The project was aimed at doubling the annual capacity of gas deliveries from Russia to Germany. The planning and construction of the pipeline started over ten years ago and was only just finished in September of last year.
Scholz was a big proponent of this from the beginning and continued supporting the ten-billion-euro-project in his role as Federal Minister of Finance from 2018-2021. The warning signs of this had been issued since the early beginnings of the project. It was obvious to most that this would only give Russia geopolitical advantages to an extent that would be unbearable for the Germany economy in the long-term – see 2022.
But I think the dilemma started much longer ago, in 2011, when Germany made the decision to quit nuclear energy for good. Back then, this issue had been long campaigned for by the Green Party, received support from other parties including the FDP, with then-General Secretary Christian Lindner, and was finally put into legislation by Angela Merkel and the CDU. At the end of this year, the last three standing nuclear power plants in Germany are scheduled to be put out of service.
Considering that all of this started in the same year that the first sod was cut for Nord Stream 2, it is hard to believe that Germany didn’t know what it was getting itself into. What could possibly go wrong when you cut off a large chunk of your own energy resources while at the same time increase your dependence on a foreign nation? Add to that the foreshadowing of the current situation when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and you have a recipe for disaster.
Now, over ten years later and with a war at Europe’s doorstep, Christian Lindner has changed his mind. At a conference last week, he raised the possibility of keeping the remaining power plants running past their expiration date at the end of the year.
The debate today is divisive as it was in 2011, but this time the roles seem to be oddly reversed: FDP with Lindner are for the continuation, Friedrich Merz (CDU) and Markus Söder (CSU) support this too. Opposed to this idea are the Green Party and the SPD, Germany’s equivalent to the Labour Party, which doesn’t come as a surprise. What does come as a surprise, however, was the proposition by Robert Habeck (Green), Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, to instead put an emphasis on burning more coal over the next years – the environment will thank him.
Whether the remaining power plants have enough fuel rod and are even fit to run from a safety standpoint is another consideration, and that’s before we consider the changes that would need to be made to the legislation soon. German energy companies have at least shown a doubtful stance.
Herr Lindner, Germany has already made its own fate in 2011. Now it is facing the consequences.