Il gasdotto Nord Stream (LaPresse)

US Sanctions Against Nord Stream 2: Germany and the EU are Fighting Back

The US sanctions against Nord Stream 2 violate international law according to the EU. The EU Commission and Germany are therefore seeking to prepare countermeasures.

The Current Situation

Nord Stream 2 is a planned gas pipeline running from Russia to Europe via the Baltic Sea. Berlin and the EU have had to deal with new, billion-dollar sanctions from the United States in an attempt to stop the pipeline project Nord Stream 2. Just last week, President Donald Trump made new threats, including punitive tariffs and sanctions against Great Britain, Germany, Spain and France, whose combined trade value adds up to € 2.8 billion per annum.

The White House’s rationale for the renewed threats is their claim that the current WTO proceedings in which it should be clarified whether it was legal for the EU to impose tariffs on goods worth €10 billion from the USA in order to counter US subsidies towards aerospace giant Boeing. Moreover, the latest round of applied pressure from Washington is yet another attempt to provoke action regarding Nord Stream 2. The construction of the pipeline project continues to be controversial, even within Europe and its eastern states.

American Fears of Russian Energy Dominance in Europe

Furthermore, even in an utterly divided Congress in the United States, a majority against Nord Stream 2 had been present ab initio. Moreover, the reason is simple: The US fears that Europe would become too dependent on Russian gas and will therefore hardly be dependent on US gas in the future.

Trump has been criticizing Nord Stream 2 for years and accuses Germany of being militarily protected from Russia, while spending almost nothing on its own defense, but at the same time providing Moscow with high income from gas exports.  In an attempt to make the EU reconsider, Trump already introduced punitive measures against companies involved in the construction of the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany in late 2019. Most recently, US senators had announced an increase in sanctions to stop Nord Stream 2. However, the project has continued and is now nearly concluded, running parallel to the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which has been transporting gas to Germany since the end of 2011.

Counteracting US Sanctions

The EU Commission and Berlin are now preparing countermeasures against the US sanctions. The latter has been confirmed by a written response by the EU’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, to a request from a member of the European Parliament. However, Commission spokesman Eric Mamer did not want to say exactly what was planned on Friday.

Nonetheless, Borrell’s written answer last Thursday states that US sanctions against actions allowed under EU law were unacceptable and a violation of international law. Currently, there was a “very open dialogue” about this with the US government and Congress.

In addition, the Commission was preparing to adopt a reinforced sanction mechanism that will improve Europe’s resilience to the effects of extra-territorial sanctions imposed by third countries, Borrell’s reply also states.  Nothing more can be said about that, said spokesman Mamer. “If we say that we are working on a proposal, then thinking and working on it is still in progress.” He asked for patience until the European Commission was ready to publish the details.

With the planned countermeasures, the European Union is at least sending out a signal for the time being. Evidently, the EU is not inclined to watch the United States interfere in European energy issues to this extent. However, any countermeasure will undoubtedly exacerbate the conflict, particularly on trade. In addition, other issues are already on the table regardless. For Instance, EU diplomats will discuss whether the US entry ban will persist due to the coronavirus pandemic, on Friday. Given the increasing number of infections in the United States, this is considered likely. Hence the relationship is likely to remain tense, no matter what the EU’s response to US Nord Stream 2 sanctions ends up being.