Unfortunately, the coronavirus will not only not delay the construction of Nord Stream 2, but it actually seems that this tragic crisis will be shamelessly used to quietly introduce harmful solutions. At a moment when everybody is focused on the increasing number of victims and Europe is united in its efforts to fight the plague, Bundestag is in secret talks on awarding derogations and exemptions from EU law to Nord Stream 2 – says MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski (ECR) in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl.
BiznesAlert.pl: You have been appointed as the European Parliament’s standing rapporteur for external energy security. What does this position entail?
Jacek Saryusz-Wolski: The European Parliament appoints standing rapporeturs to handle issues of special importance. Their job is to follow and monitor events related to a specific topic during the EP term. Such a person has a de facto monopoly on initiating and drafting parliamentary reports on a given matter. I have been engaged in external energy security issues since my first report on this topic back in 2007, “Towards a common European foreign policy on energy”. Since then I have handled gas directives, energy security of the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries, especially Ukraine.
The fact that this post has been handed to a person from our region is very important not only for Central and Eastern Europe, but also for the Union as a whole. This is because energy independence has tangible impact on our general internal and external security.
What is your take on the current political environment around the NS2 project?
Undoubtedly Nord Stream 2 is one of the most controversial projects in the recent years. Mostly because it managed to divide member states and undermine unity, which is one of the pillars of our community. This project has clearly revealed that some countries prefer to pursue their own, narrow and egoistic interests over the security of the entire Union. Germany is doing its best to downplay the geopolitical consequences Nord Stream 2 will have for the entire EU and mostly for the CEE countries by hiding behind weak financial arguments and lying about the nature of the project, first claiming it was purely about business, then saying it was actually political.
Events that stir emotions among both supporters and opponents of the project take place regularly. High hopes appeared after Angela Merkel openly admitted in 2018 that the gas pipeline was not just a business issue, but also a political one.
However, these declarations turned out to be hollow and changed nothing. A true realpolitik-style fight returned when the new Gas Directive appeared on the table. Even if the amendment was a step in the right direction, we should not forget that in the end neither has it defined the legal environment around the gas pipeline, nor has it stopped the NS2 project, at least at this point in time. However, the most concerning part of the amended Directive pertains to the so-called derogation from EU legislation. The decision about granting a derogation is left to a member state on whose territory a given gas pipeline will end, in this case it’s Germany. The example of OPAL, the land section of the first Nord Stream pipeline, clearly shows that Germany will not be shy about granting derogation to Nord Stream 2 and EUGAL. It remains to be seen whether, once this happens, the European Commission will question the decision. The EC has the right to do that, but doesn’t necessarily have the political will to actually come through.
So far, the only effective weapon against Nord Stream 2 are American sanctions. The day after the decision was signed by the US President, companies engaged in the construction of the pipeline immediately suspended their work, or even withdrew from the project. Today we know that the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipe will not be completed on time and that the pipe will be operational no sooner than in 2021, if at all.
Can the coronavarius pandemic delay the construction of Nord Stream 2?
The coronavirus pandemic has already significantly impacted the future of the project. Unfortunately, it will not only not delay the construction of Nord Stream 2, but it actually seems that this tragic crisis will be shamelessly used to quietly introduce harmful solutions. At a moment when everybody is focused on the increasing number of victims and Europe is united in its efforts to fight the plague, Bundestag is in secret talks on awarding derogations and exemptions from EU law to Nord Stream 2. Germany’s regulator Bundesnetzagentur is to issue a decision on derogation by May, based on the claim that the project had been completed from a financial point of view before the amended directive entered into force, i.e. before May 2019, which is a blatant lie and a legal absurdity.
Are you expecting that the US will take additional action against NS2? If yes, what will it be?
The United States turned out to be the most decisive and determined player in the fight against Nord Stream 2. Since the beginning Washington has declared clearly and openly it believed the project was bad for Europe for two main reasons. Firstly, from an economic point of view because it strengthens a monopoly, which goes against the basic principles of market competition and free trade. Secondly and more importantly, from a geopolitical point of view as it puts at risk Europe’s and mostly Central and Eastern Europe’s overall, military and energy security. European and American opponents of Nord Stream 2 have questioned the dishonest approach of its European supporters who want to import security from the US via NATO and gas from Russia, and thus undermine the protection provided by the US and put it at risk.
American politicians have stressed time and again that the States should use all available measures to stop and eliminate Nord Stream 2 because the project is nothing more than Russia’s geopolitical weapon and a tool of its policy used to create conflicts in the UE and hook the EU on Moscow. The fact that the Trump administration is currently engaged in the battle against the coronavirus may distract American politicians for a moment from what is happening in Europe. In the upcoming elections, the issue of Russia’s aggressive imperialism will be one of the key topics, one of the reasons being Moscow’s attempts at destabilization and misinformation. Today it is difficult to say what kind of additional sanctions America could impose. However, there is no doubt that Nord Stream 2, as a symbol of unparalleled Russian expansion, will remain in Washington’s crosshairs. As the EP’s rapporteur for external energy security of the EU I will do everything that is in my power to prevent the risks posed by Nord Stream 2.
Interview by Michał Perzyński