Berlin has handled the dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with unilateralism and clumsiness worthy of US President Donald Trump.
On February 8, the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives was to vote on a proposal to tighten the rules of the common energy market – which have thus far enabled states and companies, particularly Germany and Gazprom, to circumvent EU law. Paris signalled on February 7 that it would support the proposal, igniting debate among European policy analysts and prompting hasty diplomatic interventions from Berlin. Although this eventually led to a Franco-German compromise of sorts, the incident reflected Germany’s increasing isolation on the issue.
Paris has a direct interest in Nord Stream 2 through French firm Engie’s involvement in the project. Yet the French government appears to be less worried about commercial interests than the prospect that German insistence on completing Nord Stream 2 will drive other EU member states into the hands of the Trump administration. Portraying itself as a fearsome opponent of the project, the administration likely sees Poland and other opponents of Nord Stream 2 as potential allies in a coming trade war with the European Union. For Eurosceptic-led governments such as that in Italy, the debacle over the pipeline vindicates their view of the EU as a club whose rules twist to accommodate the tactical preferences of Berlin.
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