Germany suspends approval for Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline

Germany on Tuesday suspended the certification process for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia. 

The German regulator said the suspension was “temporary” and it appeared to be a technical rather than a political decision. 

But Russia is likely to see it as a hostile move and it could fuel growing tensions with the West. 

Vladimir Putin has been pressuring Germany to approve Nord Stream 2, which will allow Russia to bypass existing pipelines through Ukraine. 

The German regulator said it has suspended its approval process because Nord Stream 2 does not meet German and EU laws requiring pipeline operators to be separately owned from energy suppliers. 

Nord Stream has chosen to address this by setting up a new subsidiary company in Germany to operate the pipeline. 

The German regulator said it was suspending the process until the new company is set up so it can be evaluated. 

The regulator said it would still be able to complete the certification process by its January deadline. But that is unlikely to satisfy Mr Putin, who has been pressing for the pipeline to be put into operation sooner.

Nord Stream 2

Once the German regulator makes its decision, the pipeline will still have to be approved by the European Union. 

The European Commission often does little more than rubber stamp national regulators’ decisions, but it can veto them, and Nord Stream 2 is so controversial it is expected to attract more scrutiny.

The EU is likely to take particular interest in the question of the pipeline’s ownership, and whether it is genuinely independent of the Russian gas companies. 

The European Commission could take up to four months to reach its decision, after which the German regulator would have another two months to respond – meaning a final decision on Nord Stream 2 could take until July next year. 

Ukraine backs Germany

The head of the Ukrainian energy firm Naftogaz said on Tuesday he welcomed the German energy regulator’s decision.

Ukraine opposes Nord Stream 2, accusing Moscow of using energy as a weapon against Europe. Moscow denies this. Ukraine has successfully applied to be part of the consultation process to certify the pipeline.

"Good," Naftogaz head Yuriy Vitrenko told Reuters in a message when asked about the German regulator’s move. 

Once the German regulator makes its decision, the pipeline will still have to be approved by the European Union

Credit: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

"This is an important point, which suggests that the German regulator shares our position that certification cannot only apply to the pipeline in Germany, but should apply to the entire pipeline from the territory of the Russian Federation to the territory of Germany."

Critics say the pipeline could undermine Ukraine because it currently gets transit fees from existing pipelines which run through the country and could be circumvented.

Boris Johnson: Europe must preserve peace in Ukraine

Last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that European nations must choose between “mainlining” Russian gas and defending peace in Ukraine.

The Prime Minister’s message, contained in his pre-written Mansion House speech, appeared especially aimed at Germany, which has championed the pipeline.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, has pushed ahead, despite US and UK opposition, but will soon be leaving office.

Specialists on the laybarge Fortuna performing an above water tie-in during the final stage of Nord Stream 2 pipeline construction

Credit: AFP

“When we say that we support the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine that is not because we want to be adversarial to Russia, or that we want in some way strategically to encircle or undermine that great country,” Mr Johnson said.

“We hope that our friends may recognise that a choice is shortly coming between mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines, and sticking up for Ukraine and championing the cause of peace and stability, let me put it that way.”

Germany will have final sign-off on the project, meaning Mr Johnson’s message could be interpreted as a call for other European nations to apply pressure on Berlin. 

The intervention came as Russian troops continued to gather near Ukraine, prompting fears of an imminent invasion, and tensions over migration escalated at the Polish-Belarus border.

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