Construction work resumes on controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Construction work resumes on controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline
German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivers a speech on the eve of a EU summit during a session at the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) on December 9, 2020 in Berlin. (AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2020

Construction work resumes on controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline

Construction work resumes on controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  • Trump’s administration has repeatedly slammed Germany and other European nations for their reliance on energy from Russia, with the president himself calling Europe’s biggest economy a “captive to Russia”

BERLIN: Construction work resumed Friday on the disputed Nord Stream 2 pipeline which is to bring Russian gas to Germany, the project’s managers said, despite protests from the US.

Work on the €10-billion ($11 billion) pipeline had been suspended for nearly a year because of US sanctions signed off by US President Donald Trump in late 2019 that threatened asset freezes and visa restrictions for companies involved in the construction.
Trump’s administration has repeatedly slammed Germany and other European nations for their reliance on energy from Russia, with the president himself calling Europe’s biggest economy a “captive to Russia.”
But on Friday, Germany’s Authority of Waterways and Shipping Management published a notice to seafarers on the resumption of building works on the final few kilometers of the pipeline.
It warned them to avoid the area up to “around Dec. 31, 2020,” and pointed out that “anchoring or fishing is not permitted in the area of the planned pipelines.”
Confirming the resumption of construction, Nord Stream 2 said in a statement that “the pipelay vessel Fortuna will lay a 2.6 kilometer (1.6 mile) section of the pipeline in the German Exclusive Economic Zone in water depths of less than 30 meters (100 feet).”
Besides Russian giant Gazprom, which has a majority stake in the project, the international consortium involved in the pipeline includes European players such as Germany’s Wintershall and Uniper groups, the Dutch-British giant Shell, France’s Engie and Austria’s OMV.
News of works resuming sent Gazprom’s stocks leaping 3.5 percent on the Moscow stock exchange.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has held firm on the project despite facing heavy criticism within and outside Germany over it.
Besides the US, European nations like Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states are also fiercely opposed to the pipeline, fearing it will increase Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supplies, which Moscow could then use to exert political pressure.
Following the poisoning of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny earlier this year, there had been speculation that Germany might pull the plug on the deal.
But sanctions imposed over the poisoning have so far steered clear of affecting the pipeline project.
Navalny was treated in a Berlin hospital and German authorities concluded that he had been poisoned with a rare Novichok nerve agent developed by Russian authorities, plunging relations with the Kremlin to a new low.
A Nordstream 1 pipeline, which runs along a similar route to Nordstream 2, was inaugurated in 2011.


France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
Updated 49 min 24 sec ago

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat

France wants end to US-Europe trade spat
  • All eyes on President-elect Biden to resolve disputes between partners

PARIS: The EU and the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden should suspend a trade dispute to give themselves time to find common ground, France’s foreign minister said in remarks published on Sunday.

“The issue that’s poisoning everyone is that of the price escalation and taxes on steel, digital technology and Airbus,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told Le Journal du Dimanche in an interview.

He said he hoped the sides could find a way to settle the dispute. “It may take time, but in the meantime, we can always order a moratorium,” he added.

At the end of December the US moved to boost tariffs on French and German aircraft parts in the Boeing-Airbus subsidy dispute, but the bloc decided to hold off on retaliation for now.

The EU is planning to present a World Trade Organization (WTO) reform proposal in February and is willing to consider reforms to restrain the judicial authority of the WTO’s dispute-settlement body.

The US has for years complained that the WTO Appellate Body makes unjustified new trade rules in its decisions and has blocked the appointment of new judges to stop this, rendering the body inoperable.

The Trump administration, which leaves office on Wednesday, had threatened to impose tariffs on French cosmetics, handbags and other goods in retaliation for France’s digital services tax, which it said discriminated against US tech firms.

Overturning decades of free trade consensus was a central part of Trump’s “America First” agenda. In 2018, declaring that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” he shocked allies by imposing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from most of the world.

While Trump later dropped tariffs against Australia, Japan, Brazil and South Korea in return for concessions, he kept them in place against more than $7 billion worth of EU metal. The bloc retaliated with tariffs on more than $3 billion worth of US goods, from orange juice and blue jeans to Harley Davidson bikes, and took its case to the WTO.

While Biden promises to be more predictable than Trump, he is not expected to lift the steel tariffs immediately. Even if he wants to, he could run into reluctance from producers in “rust belt” states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania that secured his election win.

Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of trade think tank ECIPE, said the US was unlikely to award Europe a “free pass,” noting that countries that had offered concessions to have their tariffs lifted could complain if Europe won better treatment.

Resolving future trade disputes could become easier, if Biden reverses Trump policy that paralyzed the WTO by blocking the appointment of judges to its appellate body.