Berlin Almost exactly a year ago, threats of sanctions by the Americans stopped the construction of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline. The European special ships that welded the pipes and lowered them to the seabed withdrew – the operators were too risky of being targeted by the US authorities .
Nothing progressed for months, but now things are in motion: The “Akademik Tscherski”, a Russian laying ship that was sent to the Baltic Sea months ago, but has so far been idle in the port of Mukran on the island of Rügen, is in on Thursday Lake set. This is proven by GPS data that can be viewed on the online platform Vesselfinder. The Nord Stream 2 final has started.
A spokesman for Nord Stream 2 AG confirmed at the weekend that work on the pipeline will resume on Saturday, December 5th. The Baltic Sea Waterways and Shipping Office in Stralsund has already announced construction work south of the Adlergrund area from next Saturday and has asked ship captains to be particularly careful, as the NDR reported. There are the two pipe ends that lead to the Lubmin landing station.
Six percent of the total of 1200 kilometers long and around 9.5 billion euros expensive gas pipeline still has to be laid. Most of the missing sections are in Danish waters and a small part in the German part of the Baltic Sea.
Tension is now growing on both sides of the Atlantic. Completing the pipeline will be a race against time. Because while construction work in the Baltic Sea is to be resumed, Washington is working on new sanctions.
The first consequence: the Norwegian consulting and certification specialist Det Norske Veritas – Germanischer Lloyd (DNV-GL) is discontinuing its cooperation with the replacement ships from Russia.
“We believe that DNV-GL’s risk management activities for equipped ships managing the Nord Stream 2 project are subject to US sanctions,” the company said. That is why DNV-GL will no longer offer any services which “could be incompatible” with the Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Act of the USA.
This law, known as PEESA for short, was passed by the US Congress with the stated aim of stopping Nord Stream 2. The pipeline, which aims to double the capacity for direct deliveries of Russian gas to Germany, has many opponents in the US.
The Americans fear that Europe will become precariously dependent on Moscow. That is why the resistance against Nord Stream 2 unites the otherwise hopelessly divided political camps in Washington.
In the coming weeks it could be decided whether Nord Stream 2 will become a billion dollar grave. Or whether the Russian gas company Gazprom and its European business partners Engie, OMV, Royal Dutch Shell, Uniper and Wintershall-Dea will still succeed in completing the project.
Nord Stream 2 AG, based in Switzerland, did not want to comment on DNV-GL’s withdrawal. “It is up to the governments and the European Commission to protect European companies from illegal extraterritorial sanctions,” the company said.
DNV-GL initially only wants to discontinue those certification services that are related to laying vessels. The certification of the pipeline itself is not affected by the withdrawal decision. The news agency Reuters quotes from an email from DNV-GL that the line is ready to be certified until it is completed. How long it will stay that way is open, however.
Across factions, Democrats and Republicans are currently working on another anti-Nord Stream 2 bill. The planned “Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act” (PEESCA) would expand the existing PEESA rules and could bring the pipeline project to a permanent failure.
In June, DNV-GL was unaffected by the sanctions threats from the Americans. The company announced at the time that all contracts, laws and trade regulations were complied with and that a system was in place to ensure compliance with sanctions. At the time, however, industry insiders already had doubts whether DNV-GL would stand firm.
There is an alternative
However, there is still an alternative: If DNV-GL were to drop out completely, at least the Danish approval authorities would accept a replacement, because the Danish energy authority did not require a specific certification company when approving Nord Stream 2. Nord Stream 2 AG is thus free to choose another provider.
There are not many alternatives. In the industry, however, there has been speculation for months that the Russian side may commission a Russian certification organization. Nord Stream 2 AG does not comment on this.
There is broad consensus within the EU that US sanctions threats are unacceptable. Governments of EU countries that reject the pipeline project also take this view.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last made the position of the Europeans clear at the beginning of November. “The Commission firmly opposes the imposition of unilateral sanctions against EU companies doing legitimate business. Such measures are unacceptable and violate international law, ”said a letter from the Commission President dated November 3rd, addressed to MEPs from Germany and Austria.
Coalition politicians are critical of the latest developments. “The federal government urgently needs to discuss Nord Stream 2 with the new US administration. Future US President Joe Biden rejects the pipeline, but he is interested in constructive cooperation with Europe. You have to seize this opportunity, “said Timon Gremmels, reporter for the SPD parliamentary group for Nord Stream 2, the Handelsblatt. It is “inconceivable that we end up with a useless stub of a pipeline in the Baltic Sea”.
Greens against further construction
But there is also resistance to the pipeline in Germany. The Greens demand that the federal government withdraw support for the project. Nord Stream 2 has strained both Germany’s relations with other EU countries and with the USA, said the green European politician Franziska Brantner. The future US President Biden is also a “clear opponent” of the pipeline. Brantner criticized the fact that “letting construction continue would not be an economic or legal necessity, but rather a political stupidity of the federal government”.
When Biden takes office on January 20th, he finds himself in a dilemma. He considers Nord Stream 2 to be a strategic mistake, but on the other hand also wants to improve relations with Germany, which suffered badly under the outgoing US President Donald Trump.
Should he maintain the sanctions against a close ally like Germany, it will be difficult for the hoped-for renaissance of the transatlantic partnership. Should he relax the sanctions, Nord Stream 2 will likely be up and running soon.
Compromise at Huawei is conceivable
The question, however, is whether Biden and his advisors will even have the leeway to relax sanctions on their own initiative. The previous sanctions laws against Nord Stream 2 severely restrict the government’s freedom of action.
If Congress passes the PEESCA Sanctions Enhancement Act before Biden is sworn in, the US government may not have the opportunity to give in.
“I cannot imagine that the Democrats in Congress have an interest in restricting their own president’s ability to act,” said SPD foreign policy expert Christoph Matschie and, like Gremmels, advocated a diplomatic initiative: “If Biden has taken office, we have to strive for political clarification. ”
For this it is necessary that both sides approach each other. Nord Stream 2 must be able to be completed. In return, however, the federal government should signal to the USA that Germany will refrain from using the Chinese provider Huawei, which the US government considers a security risk, for the 5G expansion. Perhaps that way we could do business with the Americans.
More: The biggest problems of the unfinished pipeline