Natural gas has been high on the political agenda in recent years. We immediately think of earthquakes and now also of the climate. However, there is hardly another gas debate in the Netherlands: the role gas can play in potential conflict.
Via a detour – the poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – this issue is now on the political agenda. Not in the Netherlands, but in Germany, where a discussion has flared up about a controversial pipeline: the “Nord Stream”.
This transports Russian gas directly to Germany (and further to the Netherlands) across the Baltic Sea floor. The first version already exists, the second is under construction.
This project must be stopped, say critics. The main reason: The gas pipeline could become a fulcrum of future political conflicts and divide the European Union (or NATO). But how? And why is this discussion an issue in German politics, but is almost completely absent in the Netherlands?
Why does Russia actually want this gas pipeline?
To answer the question of whether we should want the pipeline from the perspective of the European Union, it can be helpful to reverse this question: Why does Russia want it? It is not as if the country can use this pipeline to develop gas fields that were not yet in production, argues Nord Stream expert Rem Korteweg from the Clingersael Institute recently Opinion piece.
“As much of the gas for Western Europe still has to flow through Ukraine, Moscow has an interest in maintaining good relations with Kiev. As soon as this transit dependency is gone, Moscow will have a free hand. “
Rem Korteweg, Nord Stream expert
“It is clear that the Nord Stream pipeline will not bring any new gas to the European market,” Korteweg told Kup.nl. “It is a pipeline mainly intended to replace an earlier route. It runs through Ukraine – and this is where the geopolitical problems began.”
“Since much of the gas for Western Europe still has to flow through Ukraine, Moscow has an interest in maintaining somewhat good relations with Kiev. As soon as this transit dependency is gone, Moscow will have a free hand.”
The Netherlands sees Nord Stream as a commercial project
In Germany, the discussion on Nord Stream has indeed turned to political interests, which are raising suspicions about Russia following the military raids in Georgia and Ukraine and a long line of other incidents, such as hacking attempts by German authorities.
Why is there no such discussion in the Netherlands? Korteweg: “The Netherlands are hiding behind the argument that Nord Stream 2 is a ‘commercial project’. But it has great geopolitical interests – certainly for Russia.”
There is also another way of looking at the project: as part of the energy supply. Then there are clear advantages and part of the criticism is put in a different light, explains Coby van der Linde. Van der Linde is Director of the Clingersael International Energy Program and Professor of Geopolitics and Energy Management at the University of Groningen.
“Germany is a major gas importer. Now that the Netherlands is disappearing as a supplier, Russia and Norway remain. This Russian import is still handled via a pipeline through Belarus (Ed.) And Poland, as well as a pipeline through Ukraine.”
The LNG exporter is included in the discussion, but offers little security
Germany therefore also needs more security of supply. Like the Netherlands, they have no port in which tankers with liquefied natural gas (LNG) can moor. At the same time, they are trying to stop the use of lignite and nuclear energy.
“But the reality is that the situation for the Netherlands is not very different these days,” says Van der Linde. “Like our neighboring countries, we have become a normal gas importing country.” Small difference: LNG ships can moor in Rotterdam. And that explains exactly the criticism of the Nord Stream from another corner: the United States. The USA produces shale gas, which the country plans to deliver to Europe via Rotterdam.
However, this gas is much more expensive than Russian gas. In addition, the slate industry is plagued by bankruptcies. This horse therefore offers little security. Van der Linde is therefore critical. “Other countries ensure that they have long-term supply contracts. The Netherlands does not. In the relatively large gas market at the moment, this seems to be no problem, but if the supply gets tighter we will pay the top price.”
“Our mindset seems to be that when these problems arise, we already have alternatives like hydrogen available. But we are leaving investments in them to the market.”
Does the Netherlands need a “strategic gas reserve”?
Is there any other short term solution? Several experts confirm that the Netherlands could consider building a larger strategic gas supply. Then we are politically less susceptible to blackmail and we are sensitive to price fluctuations. In a real crisis we may be able to help neighboring countries and thus protect European unity.
But that too, like an accelerated switch to sustainable energy and hydrogen, above all requires political determination. And a significant financial investment.