The prospect of warmer weather is brightening spirits throughout Germany after another tough winter—and nobody is more eager for spring than Olaf Scholz. Germany’s chancellor knows that prolonged cold weather means high demand for natural gas, which heats half the households and supplies a quarter of the energy needs in Europe’s biggest economy. However, Scholz doesn’t want to be reminded that Russia is the main source of half of all this gas.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and Western sanctions on Moscow, mean that Germany needs to find alternative sources of supply. According to analysts, this could take between two and three years. In the meantime, political parties are scrambling to compensate for a series of strategic missteps that have enabled Putin to have Germany in his grip—as business magazine Wirtschaftswoche puts it—”like a dealer controls a junkie.”
Much of the blame must fall to former chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which oversaw the dismantling of Germany’s nuclear power apparatus in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The CDU also failed to invest in renewable energy and did not have sufficient strategic reserves to meet the needs of the country.
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“During Merkel’s chancellorship, codependency was seen as a way of ensuring geopolitical stability,” says Veronica Grimm, an energy economist at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität in Erlangen-Nürnberg. “But we’re increasingly transitioning from a rules-based to a power-based world order. We were not well prepared for this.”
At the same time, it will be hard for Germany’s other political parties to capitalize on the CDU’s blunder, given their own exposure to the crisis. Scholz, along with his Social Democrat Party(SPD), were long the principal proponents for Nord Stream 2, a controversial pipe that would allow additional Russian gas supply.
Crucially, the pipeline bypassed Ukraine, which critics saw as a way of reducing Kyiv’s leverage over Moscow. Washington also voiced fears that the project would increase Europe’s energy dependence on Russia and threatened sanctions on the company behind it in September 2020. Scholz was the finance minister and led negotiations for Nord Stream 2. In order to calm the Biden government, Scholz offered up to one billion euro to create two LNG terminals that would allow for gas imports from the U.S. as well as other sources. The construction of the terminals was halted by environmentalists. However Scholz has recently stated plans to revive them.
Scholz must also grapple with his party’s Russia-friendly image. Under the supervision of Willi Brandt (a SPD chancellor), the construction of Russia’s first natural gas pipeline took place in 1973. He pursued conciliatory trade policies and other policies towards the communist bloc. Former SPD chancellor Gerhard Schröder is meanwhile on friendly terms with Putin and earns hundreds of thousands of euros a year as a board member of Russian gas companies Gazprom and Rosnet. It was only after the Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine that the SPD called on Schröder to cut those ties. In the interim, Schröderisieung German media has made this a slang term for a period of growing corruption and the ascension to power by old politicians.
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The criticisms of other parties extend to the rest of society. Greens have been criticized over their support for demilitarization. As a minor member of the current government coalition, the Free Democratic Party has come under fire for being hesitant about imposing harsh economic sanctions on Moscow. Indeed, despite the political posturing of the last few days, “all the parties have shied away from the cost of tougher sanctions for too long,” says Grimm. She calls the position “short sighted” given the enormous consequences if the war should escalate. “The question should be, what sanctions package can prevent a further escalation?”
Germany is facing a larger challenge than the sanctions issue. Germany needs to shift away from the rules-based order Putin created in Ukraine’s invasion and toward a new global order in which military might seems to play an even greater role. As the E.U. continues to impose more severe sanctions and Germany tries to strengthen its military, it seems that they are still trying too hard. rolls out increasingly aggressive sanctions and Germany sets about bolstering its military, it seems that the country‘s leaders are still scrambling to compensate for old mistakes instead of charting a course to the future. It’s still too far off for Scholz to see springtime.