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Gas Interests Behind Germany's Opposition to New Russia Sanctions – MEP
20 June, 2017
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European leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back against new US sanctions towards Russia, citing that they would harm European interests. According to Member of the European Parliament, Rebecca Harms, this is because Chancellor Merkel is interested in a German-Russian gas monopoly.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 97-2 for new sanctions against Russia, limiting President Trump’s power over these decisions. This vote was a reaction to Russia’s interference during the US elections, and aims at strengthening the US profile with Europe and Ukraine towards Russia. The push back from the German Chancellor against these sanctions comes as a surprise, Harms told Hromadske, and lies in the joint gas project between Germany and Russia, Nord Stream 2.

“Merkel should be a little more sensitive towards the EU neighbours, especially in the East and Denmark,” Harms stated, “We have many countries against Nord Stream 2, because they see that there is a kind of German-Russian gas empire, or gas monopoly growing and they don’t want it.”

When it comes to lifting sanctions against Russia, Harms was clear on her stance, “We can always talk, but if there are no changes on the ground, not in Donbas, and not in Syria. Then why change our strategy?”

We were pretty surprised by the reaction of German, but also Austrian, representatives of governments who were not supportive of the American strengthening of the sanctions which have taken place recently – also an unexpected move. But we already found that American politicians did not want the sanctions to be revised or removed by the President. But this reaction from the European politicians was pretty surprising, can you explain it?

Rebecca Harms: So I was, first of all, surprised by the huge majority in the Senate for the sanctions. When I read about it, I found out that they decided on the sanctions, on one hand, because of the meddling of Russia in the US elections. On the other, they wanted to strengthen the US profile in solidarity with Ukraine and Europe towards Russia. So I was really surprised by the tough reaction by Social Democrat Chancellor Kern from Austria and German Foreign Affairs Minister Gabriel. They are always seen as close to the Gazprom empire. They have close friends like Chancellor Schröder, so it was surprise but not only a surprise. And the real surprise came from some hours later when Chancellor Merkel also said that she has doubts on the decision in the Senate. This is so strange, because until now, everybody was wondering whether we can still rely in Europe and in NATO on the position of the United States towards Russia after Trump became president. Now the Senate has tried to strengthened the sanctions and the Senate is trying to curb the power of Trump when it comes to Russia’s sanctions. And Europeans are protesting. This is really bizarre.

Is there any discussion about any particular new deals? Or is there any particular process taking place that maybe would be these talks? How can we generally explain this? It can not just be explained by the German elections.

Rebecca Harms: No, it is about the Nord Stream 2 project, I would say. There is a big interest in the Nord Stream 2 project in Germany. I thought so far that Chancellor Merkel would be a little more sensitive towards the EU neighbours, especially in the East and Denmark, for example. We have many many countries against Nord Stream 2, because they see that there is a kind of German-Russian gas empire, or gas monopoly growing and they don’t want it. They don’t want to increase dependency on Russian gas. Same is in the European Commission. There are many doubts on Nord Stream 2, but now in a reaction to the Senate’s vote, Merkel comes out as obviously a supporter of Nord Stream 2. And I think it is very damaging for the German reputation and I think the Germans should understand that sometimes they really have to respect European interests and not only their own narrow economic interest in their industry. I don’t know, but from my experience, we do not need the gas now. Why should we weaken the sanctions regime towards Russia by now organizing a gas monopoly in-between German and Russian companies.

Overall, do you feel that in the German establishment there are some specific ideas or reasons for closer cooperation with Russia behind what we just discussed? There is always this issue, but sometimes the situation is more or less stable. There is always this will, but there is always also an agreement. Can we speak about any kind of shift?

Rebecca Harms: We would see maybe some new nuances in these strategies towards Russia in the G20 summit, but according to what I see, there is not a single reason to change the sanctions strategy towards Russia. We can always talk, but if there are no changes on the ground, not in Donbas and not in Syria, for example. Then why to change our strategy?

/Text by Chen Ou Yang