For weeks now, berlin has been abuzz with speculation that angela merkel might be forced into one of the biggest u-turns of her career and drop her support for nord stream 2, the contentious russian gas pipeline.
Rumours of a rethink began to surface as soon as doctors in germany confirmed that alexei navalny, the celebrated kremlin critic, had been poisoned with novichok nerve agent an attack that triggered outrage in berlin.
But it is far from clear that ms merkel is ready to pull the plug on nord stream 2. the chancellors messaging on the pipeline has been remarkably consistent and the navalny affair has, so far, barely impinged on it. moreover, she is backed by most of the german political establishment.
The opposition greens tabled a motion in the bundestag last week calling on the government to stop the project, which will bring gas directly from russia to germany across the baltic sea. green party leader annalena baerbock said nord stream 2 was splitting europe.
Yet ms baerbock and her party found themselves almost entirely isolated. erstwhile enemies from across the political spectrum ganged up to savage their motion. it was one of the few occasions on which ms merkels cdu/csu, the social democrats, the hard-left die linke and the hard-right alternative for germany had ever agreed on anything.
Manuela schwesig, the spd prime minister of mecklenburg-vorpommern, pointed to the importance of natural gas as a bridge fuel for germany as it abandons conventional sources of power. were quitting nuclear in 2022 and coal in 2038 and its still not clear that wind and... hydrogen technology can replace all of that, she said.
Jens koeppen, a cdu mp, said nord stream 2 had already swallowed up 10bn, it was 97 per cent finished, with only 150km left to be laid. should all of that now rot on the bottom of the baltic sea? he asked. dietmar bartsch of die linke asked the greens why they had not demanded a halt to saudi oil imports after the murder of [jamal] khashoggi.
German policymakers are in a bind. they want to punish russia over the navalny affair, but they know that stopping nord stream 2 would inflict massive collateral damage on europe. the eus demand for gas is growing as its domestic resources of the fuel are dwindling.
Withdrawing support for the project would also hurt european investors. russian state group gazprom may be building the pipeline, but half of its 9.5bn cost has been covered by loans from european investors such as royal dutch shell, engie and omv. the german government would probably have to shell out billions in compensation if it blocks nord stream 2.
The german government is anxious to avoid any move thatunderminesthe legal framework for big energy investments. unlike other countries germany has no national energy champion, and so is entirely reliant for its energy supply on private companies, said kirsten westphal, an energy analyst at the german institute for international and security affairs. those companies need a reliable regulatory framework, and berlin knows that.
At the same time, berlin has continued to insist that political issues specifically, the navalny affair and the need for a robust european response must be kept apart from economic ones, notably infrastructure projects that are seen as essential for europes energy security.
Ms merkel was asked in late august, shortly after mr navalny had arrived in berlin for treatment, if germany should quit nord stream 2. her response was clear: the two issues should, she said, be decoupled.
Nord stream 2 should be completed, she added, since it would be operated by economic actors in both russia and europe. there is no reason to believe her view has changed since then novichok or no novichok.