The Ukraine crisis has plunged Germany into an intense debate about how it will heat its homes and power its industry in future, summed up in the short question: can Europe’s largest economy function without Vladimir Putin’s gas?
The Green federal economics minister, Robert Habeck, answered with a decisive “yes it can”, a day after the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, announced the suspension of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was meant to deliver from Russia as much as 70% of Germany’s gas requirements. There are considerable doubts as to whether the $11bn project will ever now go ahead.
But even before Russian troops invaded Ukraine on Thursday morning, NS2 was just a small part of the wider discussion some say Germany has been far too slow to have. At stake is nothing less than the future of German – and by extension European – energy security.
Germany announced its withdrawal from nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and in 2019 said it would pull the plug on coal-fired plants, leaving observers wondering how the country was planning to make its energy policy workable and future-proof. Sceptics have questioned how it made sense for Germany to make itself so dependent on Russian gas when it should be distancing itself from Putin’s autocratic machinery. Until recently, the answer from the top of government was that this was an economic project, not a political one. The robotically repeated mantra now sounds at the best naive, and at the worst, given the current turn of events, a self-defeating decision which has helped fund Putin’s war.
Habeck admitted “we face turbulent days ahead”, as he promised on Wednesday that the government would provide relief where necessary to compensate for the expected rise in gas prices. One of the government’s main predicaments is whether it can deliver on its promise to make a switch to renewable energy sources in order to reach its climate goal to become carbon neutral by 2045. Gas is seen as the vital…