The emerging energy crisis will show the Germans who they can rely on in the EU. In some European capitals, Berlin’s anti-nuclear course is considered wrong and they don’t want to be held jointly responsible. In others, old outstanding bills are taken out of drawers.

Just as the blind carry the lame who shows them the way, Germany and France want to compensate for each other’s handicap in the looming energy crisis: German electricity for French gas.

“So this couple works together, which was not possible for anyone individually,” says Christian Fürchtegott Gellert’s poem “The Blind and the Lame”. Not all EU partners are so keen on burden sharing.

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Berlin has once again made itself unpopular. This time the reason is the bickering over whether the German nuclear phase-out should be suspended, stretched, withdrawn or remain sacrosanct. Not only Slovakia has already recommended that Germany let its remaining nuclear reactors run longer, but also EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton.

However, Breton’s home country France is currently finding out that the presence of nuclear power plants does not automatically mean electricity production – a good part of the considerable nuclear potential there was idle in July; partly because the nuclear plants were being serviced, partly because there wasn’t enough cooling water available because of the summer heat.

France and Germany, the two biggest in the EU club, who like to pose as teachers for the other, on the brink of a supply crisis – many a smaller partner laughs up his sleeve. Or now he gives instructions, especially for the otherwise very clever Germans.

The recent reference from Madrid, which looks to relatively well-stocked national gas storage facilities, to countries that have lived “beyond their means” in terms of energy consumption, can only be understood as a tit-for-tat. It reflects Germany’s admonitions to the southern countries of the euro zone to put their budgets in order.

Once again, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban sprayed open malice. While he had his foreign minister in Moscow antichambered over mild gas gifts, disavowed the EU’s common sanctions policy and was the only head of government in the Union to vote against their painstakingly negotiated emergency gas supply plan, he made an unsavory joke about Nazi Germany’s handling of gas. He had previously suggested that the EU Commission should dissuade Germany from phasing out nuclear power.

The shrill tones from Budapest set the tone for a cacophony that is likely to get louder across the EU as winter approaches. Because the Union’s emergency plan now available contains a few exceptions and only provides for a voluntary gas savings target (15 percent) for the member countries. After it was on the table, a number of European media immediately picked it up.

The British “Economist” predicted: “If the coming winter is mild, the EU could get away with it, but if it gets cold, it will have to prove that it sticks together even in hard times.” The “Süddeutsche Zeitung” said “new rivalries , distribution struggles and EU disputes”.

And the Dutch “Telegraaf” found: “There is no security for the coming winter – room for Putin to play countries off against each other, all the more so. The bottom line is that the disunited energy ministers will have to renegotiate if there is a threat of a gas shortage.”

The federal government will be able to do little more than appeal to European solidarity in this looming ongoing debate, which Russian President Vladimir Putin can follow with pleasure. The argument that Germany has already beaten others out with its substantial contributions to overcoming the euro crisis and the economic consequences of the corona epidemic, for example, is likely to fall on deaf ears with its EU partners.

You don’t hear that kind of stuff anywhere else. Probably not either, as CSU MEP Markus Ferber pointed out: “Just think of Russia’s boycott measures against Ukraine in 2007, 2008 and 2009, when the German gas storage facilities were made available to Central and Eastern Europe as a matter of course. Hopefully our neighbors haven’t forgotten that.”

Our big eastern partner Poland, for example, has not forgotten something completely different: that it still expects reparations from the Germans for the devastation caused in the neighboring country during the Second World War. In Warsaw, the question of gas support for the Federal Republic was promptly mixed up with this eternal bone of contention.

Germany’s new misery comes up against old unpaid bills. We like to think of ourselves as European model boys. However, for some of the EU partners, the role of the whipping boy still seems more appropriate for us.

We will probably not be able to hope for an overwhelming wave of spontaneous European helpfulness, but rather for the resilience of the tried and tested Paris-Berlin axis and bilateral solidarity agreements, of which a small number already exist. Brussels could still help a little by optimizing the coordination of gas flows, even if it cannot force anyone to do anything.

The member states have just made it clear to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, how little they want to be told by the Germans on energy matters. And how far away we are from a functioning European gas network.