22.01.2021 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

How Nord Stream 2 Could ‘Liberate’ Europe

Nord Stream 2 - Pipelaying

More than anything else, riots in Washington D.C. showed that the US politics, while apparently shifting from the ‘mad’ Republicans to the ‘wise’ Democrats, is likely to remain in the grip of intense internal power struggle between what have become ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ Trump groups. The Biden administration is most likely to remain, at least for some time, focused on diffusing internal tensions and consolidation of power. While the US seems to have incredibly lost its democratic credentials, elsewhere in Europe, it is also losing its primacy as a foreign policy dictator, a position it had acquired in the wake of military & economic devastation Europe suffered during the World War Two. Germany’s decision to go ahead with the completion of Nord Stream 2 indicates the direction in which the wind is blowing, sailing Europe away from the US

While the possible completion of Nord Stream 2 does not and wouldn’t indicate Europe’s strategic alliance with Russia, it does, however, show Europe’s increasing assertiveness vis-à-vis the US. As it stands, Germany and Europe are going ahead with the completion of Nord Stream 2, with pipeline construction to begin from January 15 in Denmark.

The US naturally sees this as a strategic set-back and it is already “warning” European companies of sanctions. The fact that the announcement to complete Nord Stream 2 has come within days of the signing of EU-China investment deal really illustrates the way Europe is increasingly snubbing the US in its dealings with countries that the US considers “rogue” and “revisionist.”

The US State Department recently “informed” European companies involved in gas pipeline project that they risk facing sanctions. “We are trying to inform companies of the risk and urge them to pull out before it’s too late”, said a US official.

While the Trump administration had been chasing European companies’ involvement in the project for some time, the Biden administration is likely to stay the same course. Joe Biden, when he was vice-President, had opposed the project.

At the same time, there is no appetite in Europe for the new US administration to come and certify Europe’s commercial ventures. The message to US was clear when German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recently told the news agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur DPA that Berlin will not yield to pressure from Washington. To quote him, Germany “does not need to talk about European sovereignty if that is understood as us (Germany) doing everything in future the way Washington wants.” He added while Germany does see an opportunity to mend its ties with the US under the Biden administration, it’s stance on Nord Stream 2 will remain unchanged.

It is obvious here that Germany as well as the rest of Europe has become absolutely tired of continuous US interference and dictation. Therefore, whereas Nord Stream 2 will economically satisfy German commercial needs, geo-politically, it will help Germany and other European countries to re-exert their strategic autonomy vis-à-vis the US, autonomy they had before the US dominated system was imposed after the Second World War. Nord Stream 2, therefore, has already become a symbol of European redemption, indicating strongly that there is no go going back to full normalization.

Indeed, this is exactly what French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in November last year in an interview to Europe1 Radio. To quite him, there “will be no going back to the previous situation, to the good old times of transatlantic relations”, adding also that “We will have to build a new transatlantic relationship” in the light of the changes that the world has undergone in last four years. One of the most significant changes, according to the minister is the way “Europe has in the past four years asserted its sovereignty, in the areas of security, defence and strategic autonomy”, adding also that “Europe has shed its naivety in the past four years and begun to assert itself as a power.”

Germany and other European beneficiary countries’ decision to complete Nord Stream 2 shows that Europe’s unflinching march towards reclaiming strategic autonomy is continuing and defeating the US and its threat of sanctions.

This is evident from the way Germany is already taking steps to set up a fund to ward off US sanctions and allow the companies to acquire a shield against the punitive measures the US intends to take to punish Europe for its autonomy and its decision to not buy all the gas it needs from the US alone. Clearly, Germany’s decision to compete Nord Stream 2 has come at expense of US programs like the Third Energy Package and the US funded and supported Three Seas Initiative.

Nord Stream, therefore, has already become a litmus test of European ministers’ claims about the “change” the continent has undergone in last four years. Its completion will stamp Europe’s credentials as an independent player in the increasingly multipolar world. Europe’s increasing distance vis-à-vis the US will also weaken the US ability to unilaterally manipulate and dictate global political and economic issues, including climate change, Iran, the “rogue” Russia and the “revisionist” China. As it stands, Europe has already charted a course for its ships to follow.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.