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German Chancellor Angela Merkel is facing growing pressure to reconsider the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will take gas from Russia to Germany, after she said Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a Soviet-style nerve agent. In a blunt statement aimed at Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mrs Merkel said Mr Navalny was the victim of attempted murder and challenged the Russian government to explain what happened. Moscow has denied involvement in the incident and the Russian foreign ministry said Germany’s assertion was not backed by evidence.
Norbert Roettgen, head of Germany’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, told German radio: “We must pursue hard politics, we must respond with the only language Putin understands – that is gas sales.
“If the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is completed now, it would be the maximum confirmation and encouragement for Putin to continue this kind of politics.”
Nord Stream 2 is set to double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1 pipeline in carrying gas directly from Russia to Germany.
Led by Russian company Gazprom with Western partners, the project is more than 90 percent finished and due to operate from early 2021.
This may complicate efforts to stop it.
Moreover, according to a recent report by eurointelligence, Putin “made the calculation that Germany will never unilaterally suspend Nord Stream 2 because it needs the gas”.
However, unearthed reports suggest Mrs Merkel could indeed listen to her growing domestic pressure and perform a U-turn, just like she did in 2008.
In a 2019 opinion piece for Deutsche Welle, German journalist Mark Hallam recalled Mrs Merkel’s “atomic energy transition”.
He wrote: “A core promise from her Christian Democrats (CDU) in the 2009 elections was highly controversial in Germany, to put it mildly: the party pledged to overturn relatively recent plans to phase out nuclear power.
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“For the first time — it would also be the last — Merkel won an election without the need for a grand coalition with the rival Social Democrats.”
The success of the CDU/CSU and Free Democrats (FDP) in a vote dominated by economic issues immediately after the financial crash, Mr Hallam noted, probably came despite this particular energy policy, not because of it.
At the time, most polls revealed a widespread distaste for atomic energy in the country.
If forced to mention it publicly at all, CDU leaders reluctantly tried to sell it as an unpopular but wise policy – one that would prove good for the climate in the long run.
However, around 18 months later, a huge undersea earthquake sent a wall of water at Japan’s eastern coast, killing over 15,000 people, and, soon after, a nuclear reactor in Fukushima buckled under nature’s boot.
The journalist recalled: “In Germany, reactions to the tragedy focused like a laser beam on that election promise. The sense of urgency regarding this domestic policy in papers and on TV matched the incessant reporting on the chances of fallout from Fukushima reaching Frankfurt.
“Within three days of the quake, on March 14, 2011, Merkel announced a three-month moratorium on nuclear power.
“A commission was hastily hurled together to weigh the options. By June 3, the shutdown was back, on pretty much the same timetable as before.
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“The press and public broadly rejoiced.”
In a recent interview with the independent socialist magazine Monthly Review, German political writer Ingar Solty used the Chancellor’s U-turn on nuclear energy as an example of her “presidential, opportunistic kind of ruling”.
Mr Solty argued that during her four terms as Chancellor, Mrs Merkel left the hard work to her ministers, blaming unpopular decisions on them, and shifting positions whenever it seemed convenient.
He said: “For instance, after the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe of 2011 (with 10 to 20 percent of the radioactive emissions of Chernobyl and the displacement of 150,000 people), and faced with tremendous antinuclear energy protests, Mrs Merkel suddenly switched positions from the planned extension of the operating licenses of German nuclear power plants to the ad hoc declaration that Germany was going to end nuclear energy.
“This was not hard to do since, at the time, it was a political goal that had the support of three quarters of the population.
“At the same time, this co-optation and absorption of the demands of political opponents from the neoliberal left had the effect of asymmetrical demobilisation.
“In the end, the switch in nuclear energy policy did not, as had been intended, prevent the predicted rise of the Greens to their first minister president in Baden-Württemberg, the former Maoist-turned-very-conservative Winfried Kretschmann, but in general Merkel showed a flexibility not seen since the Prussian King in 1848.
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