Europe is preparing for the Russian warlord Vladimir Putin to cut off its gas supply for good. There is a risk that everyone will then only think of themselves again – as in the first pandemic panic. And that Germany becomes a petitioner.
On Wednesday, the EU Commission presented its emergency plan for a winter with energy shortages caused by Russia. A day later it will become clear whether Moscow is already serious and will no longer start the gas supply through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline after the maintenance break.
The moment of truth is approaching and must inevitably come at some point. Better now, say some voices, hoping for a salutary shock. After all, the EU wants to make itself completely independent of Russian supplies by 2027. “Let’s be honest: the sooner disaster strikes, the better. Europe will be forced to find a solution. But at the same time, Putin will lose his throttle stick,” Czech public radio Český Rozhlas said in a comment.
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The energy supply crisis that the EU is facing can indeed prove what it is really capable of as a community of solidarity – or show once again how national egotism triumphs over Sunday speeches and shatters the desirable European cohesion. After the experiences with the corona pandemic, one unfortunately has to say: The prospects for the occurrence of the second scenario of a fractious chaos club appear greater than the chances of everyone pulling themselves together and uncomplainingly reaching out to each other.
European energy solidarity looked like this at Hungary’s motorway filling stations in the summer: taps largely sealed with cable ties; subsidized low prices for locals, foreigner surcharge for travelers passing through. FDP MEP Moritz Körner called it “petrol pump nationalism”. Like his CSU colleague Markus Ferber, he felt it was overdue when the EU Commission finally agreed to initiate infringement proceedings against Hungary because of this unequal treatment. “The Commission let weeks go by before the problem of discrimination at Hungarian petrol pumps is finally tackled,” Ferber complained, and accused the EU headquarters in Brussels under Ursula von der Leyen of “somnolence”. Surf tip: You can find all the news about the corona pandemic in the FOCUS Online news ticker
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, with his subsidized petrol prices only for Hungary, not only reduced the functioning of the European internal market to absurdity. In doing so, he also made it clear what a risk he has now become in the circle of EU partners. “He does not see himself as a participant in a European community of solidarity and will certainly not give up any energy in the event of a crisis,” predicts Körner.
An isolated case? Hopefully. But the Brussels noises accompanying the forthcoming presentation of the emergency plan are fatally reminiscent of whistling in the dark forest. Appeals for energy solidarity are piling up – as if their originators were secretly overtaken by the anxious foreboding that a general rescue-himself-who-can-syndrome could break out, as at the beginning of the Corona crisis with panicked border closures and vaccine egotism.
Angelika Niebler, co-chair of the group of CDU/CSU MEPs in the European Parliament, warns: “In this crisis we must prevent national unilateralism, such as we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, when EU countries simply closed their borders. Gas deliveries must not come to a standstill at national borders.” Her parliamentary colleague Jens Geier, head of the SPD MPs, expects: “The winter energy crisis will become a solidarity and stress test for the EU. We in the EU can only get through the upcoming autumn and winter if we really work together.”
The director of the Institute of German Economics, Michael Hüther, demands in the “Welt am Sonntag” to ward off production stops in industry: “The EU must ensure that gas continues to flow between the countries even in the event of a Russian supply stop.” But so far he has spoken the EU Commission only makes recommendations. In an emergency, however, it can – at the request of the affected countries – declare an energy emergency. She would then intervene as an arbitrator in disputes.
In the draft of its emergency plan, the Commission emphasizes again and again how crucial coordinated and joint action by the member states is to keep the damage to prosperity for everyone caused by a stop to Russian energy supplies as low as possible. She warns: “In a serious emergency, directly connected member states have the obligation to show solidarity to each other, taking into account fair compensation.” Access to gas reserves beyond their own borders must remain secured for the member states. Mutual consideration also requires any necessary shutdowns of production facilities to be coordinated with neighboring countries whose own economies could be affected.
At the same time, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton has already emphasized: “Each country must produce as much energy as it can: to meet its own needs, but also those of its European neighbors.” This puts Germany in an embarrassing position. With the phase-out of coal and nuclear power, there is capacity for generating electricity.
It will be exciting to see how Berlin wants to make this fact plausible to its neighbors in an ongoing supply crisis, while expecting them to share their scarce resources with it. The CDU MEP Peter Liese points out in this context: “Our European partners have no understanding for the discussion in Germany.”
Liese takes up a suggestion made by his CDU colleague in the Bundestag, Andreas Jung, who advocated extending the life of nuclear power plants in Germany and a temporary speed limit of 130 kilometers per hour on the autobahn. Liese wants a German signal of solidarity for Europe: “We are practically the only European country without a speed limit, and even if the contribution to saving energy is very small; At the moment we have to use every opportunity to become less dependent on Russian gas, coal and oil and still not let prices explode.”
Ideally, the foreseeable shortage should be managed jointly and fairly, whoever has just enough gas gives it away. In a community of destiny like the EU, that should actually be a matter of course. That this is not the case is proven by the fact that so-called solidarity agreements between neighboring countries are intended to prevent someone selfishly squatting on their gas treasures.
There are currently only half a dozen such treaties across the EU. Germany, a country with nine neighboring countries (eight of them in the EU), currently only has two sealed, further efforts are underway. Time is running out. The European Union is facing the next tough test of its cohesion after the euro crisis and the corona pandemic.
These two crises have already resulted in strong rifts between north and south, rich and poor. Above all, the German behavior in the euro crisis with Berlin’s austerity measures for those in need left behind resentment. Due to its heavy dependence on Russian energy supplies, this time Germany, the largest member of the Union, finds itself in the camp of petitioners who must hope for help from partners. The CSU MEP Angelika Niebler looks to the future with concern: “Only an emergency will show whether the solidarity among each other is great enough and whether agreements are kept.”