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‘Germany can’t play alone against US and China’

Published time: November 08, 2011 08:16
Edited time: November 08, 2011 15:50

Former German Chacellor Gerhard Shroeder (AFP Photo / Joseph Eid)

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Only a unified Europe aided by Russia can be strong enough to compete with superpowers such as the US and China, Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told RT.

­RT: Why should the EU increase its dependence on Gazprom with the Nord Stream pipeline?

Gerhard Schröder: We are not talking about dependence on Russia, we are talking about co-operation between Russia and the European Union in the energy sector. Nord Stream is viewed as a priority project by both Russia and the EU because it’s been part of Europe's energy networks since 2006, recognized by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Energy Ministers.

Gerhard ­Schröder headed Germany between 1998 and 2005. Now he chairs the shareholders' committee of the Nord Stream project, a joint Russian-European gas pipeline, which pumps Russian fuel to European plants.

RT: Two Nord Stream strings have been laid. What are the chances of a third one being added and what would its capacity be?

G.S.: We currently have at least two pipelines with a total capacity of 55 billion cubic meters. The question of whether a third or even fourth pipeline will be laid is to be answered by European stockholders. As you know, we have Gazprom on the one side and Holland's Gasuni, France's GDF Suez , Germany's EON and BASF Wintershall on the other. If the investors decide to build a third and fourth pipeline – privately financed, mind you, we are not talking about state financing – then it could be done. I do not know whether they will make such a decision, as it was not part of my work.

RT: Brussels wants all Russian energy companies, not just Gazprom, to be allowed to export gas to Europe. What are the implications of that for both Gazprom and Europe?

G.S.: Regulatory permission is not an issue. The EU, Germany and the rest of the EU nations, need gas to sensibly reform their energy policy. Russia on the other hand has to sell gas to keep its budget in order, so there is a co-dependency, which is a good thing. I would be happy to see European companies invest into Russia, and European markets open up to Russian companies. It is all good free-market economy.

RT: What do you think of the recent EU raids on Gazprom and its partners in Europe?

G.S.: I think Europeans need gas. Gas has many uses. With the political uncertainty in North Africa, it is good to have a stable partner that you can rely on, and Russia is one. You know better than anyone else, for instance, that Britain recently switched from export to import. Europe needs a gas supply to maintain a stable mix of energy sources that its climatic conditions require; it needs Norway's gas, but also Russia's gas. Therefore I think opening the market up to Russian companies would be a wise move.

RT: Do some EU officials oppose Russia whatever it does?

G.S.: I guess it is so. We have to admit that, but I hope we will get over it. It's understandable. The European Union needs Russia geopolitically, but the reverse is also true. There is no question about it. The time has come to start co-operating and stop looking back at ideological differences.

RT: Could Russia switch supply east to China if Brussels keeps up its hostility?

G.S.: Russia is in a situation where it could ship gas to China, and entire Asia, and Europe. I hope Russia never has to make a choice. The Russian government is evidently pro-European, but Europe cannot keep pushing Russia away, it hurts Russians' pride. We have to keep in mind that while Russia has the alternative of shipping to Asia, Europe has no such alternative. Europe's geopolitical position will only improve if it manages to enter a tight partnership with Russia and at the same time grant EU accession to Turkey. That would be a sound strategy aimed into the future. The rest is yesterday's debate.

RT: If Russia does decide to go east, could it mean a gas shortfall for Europe?

G.S.: No, that will not happen. Russia was an exceptionally reliable supplier in Soviet times, so no-one has to worry about that changing. I will say again that Europe's market is incredibly important for Russia to keep its budget balanced among other things. Therefore, we are not talking about dependence here, but a co-dependency.

RT: We’ve heard plans for an electricity route alongside the Nord Stream pipeline. Could Germany and the EU be interested in importing electricity from Russia?

G.S.: I have not heard about such plans, there have long been rumors about it, but so far the talk has been detached from reality. I doubt the plans will ever be realized, but ultimately it is up to the pipelines' owners, not the chairman of the shareholders' committee.

RT: Progress in shipping liquefied natural gas makes Europe less dependent on pipelines. Can this affect the project?

G.S.: I do not think it would have a negative effect on the project, as Europe's liquefied gas market is quite limited. There is nowhere to sell it in Germany, Poland has a developing market. It is in no way a danger for us, that is not the reason I am criticizing it. The indications that there are alternative sources, the low spot prices on gas, they are dubious. Spot deals can be of more gain than long-term supply agreements in the short run, but they do not offer stability.

RT: In the wake of the Fukushima disaster Germany is closing all its nuclear power plants. Do you support that and how will it change Germany’s energy mix?

RT: Consider this. Me and my team were the people who originally negotiated that deal with our energy suppliers. We had agreed to make a sensible exit out of nuclear energy. That was followed by a short period when the federal government thought our agreement should be overturned. They have since gone the other way and started supporting what I had negotiated. This does not mean bridge technologies like nuclear energy cannot be used until energy efficiency is sufficiently developed. We need gas as an interim energy source for the sake of energy security. That is the reason we need to buy gas from Norway, from other countries, but primarily from Russia, and the reason we need to build gas power stations.

RT: With this EU debt crisis Mr. Sarkozy says ‘no euro, no Europe’. Surely Europe will survive without the euro?

G.S.: This is a quote that my successor in office likes to use. Of course Europe is going to have problems if the euro has problems, but there is one thing you can be sure of: the euro is going to survive as a common currency. Even if, theoretically, things turn out differently, which I find very improbable, we will still have a united Europe.

RT: You were Chancellor when Greece cooked its books to join the euro. Should you have stopped Athens from joining the single currency?

G.S.: I do not think that was our situation. The European Commission, its employees that had to conduct the inspections, they had let us know that we could take the responsibility for Greece's EU accession on ourselves. It was a purely preparatory mission conducted by the European Commission, not the national governments. We had made the decision to take Greece in. We could not claim, without having firm proof, that the information we got then was, diplomatically speaking, not entirely correct. Keep in mind that the European Parliament voted in favor of Greece's membership almost unanimously, including the conservatives who are now trying to distance themselves from that decision. Sometimes in politics you don't want to believe things you once condoned are happening.

RT: Either the commission was wrong or the handling of Greece had been wrong. Which was it?

G.S.: It is pointless to talk about how things were in the past; we are talking about the future. I hope we manage to keep Greece in the eurozone. For that to happen, the new Greek government would have to be non-partisan, uninfluenced by debates provoked by rightwing parties. I hope the package of aid agreements that European leaders have agreed on is implemented. If that is the case, then I think we can start taking care of stabilizing the markets, with a great deal of help from Greece, of course. There is one point I would like to make. The country should not be broken down. Not only does Greece need budget discipline, which is of course true, but what Greece needs most are investments. It would be good to see wealthy Greek citizens who are currently investing abroad pay taxes in their own country instead of looking for investment opportunities.

RT: Is there a red line beyond which the Germans will say ‘we don’t bail out southern Europe anymore’, or does Germany have a historic debt to Europe as France has put it?

G.S.: I am not against discussing a red line. The problem is, that if you talk about a red line, then you would eventually have to correct it. Germany is interested, both politically and economically, in a functioning Europe. The economic interest is easily explained: 40% of our export goes to the European Union and beyond. If those countries are hit by a crisis, then so is Germany. Secondly, both a lesson we learned in the past and our prospects for the future dictate that Germany is not strong enough geopolitically to play a significant role in a game where the US is one superpower and an Asian leader, in this case China, is the other. No European state is. Only a united Europe can take on a role like that. That is why Germany is interested in a united Europe, not just because of the past, but for the sake of our citizens' future.

RT: Many Germans, Dutch people, Finns are angry at having to pay. Are they wrong?

G.S.: I can understand that, but I have to explain it very consistently to the current generation of political leaders that it is within our own interest to maintain stability in other countries, as Germany is a nation that relies hugely on export. If markets around us crumble, it harms us. We have to explain it to our people – the new generation – that the prospect for long-lasting peace lies in Europe.

RT: When you served as the Chancellor, there was no talk about receiving aid from China or Russia – directly or indirectly through the IMF. Do you regret that potentially happening, and what would be the implications?

G.S.: I do not think we should feel bad about other nations getting stronger, be they Russians, Chinese, Brazilians, South Africans or Indians, it should not concern us because these countries offer us more opportunity to export our products as they develop. But that is only the case if we stay better, stay more innovative, when we fulfill our agenda of 2010 and sort out our social policies. Germany is the only country that understood back in 2003 that for an ageing country to maintain prosperity, it must provide for change. I wonder if the rest of the EU states, having understood this a decade later, will manage to take the action needed to maintain prosperity. On the other hand, we have an understanding that an ageing society with a decreasing number of people who are employed has problems of that sort. We started taking care of our problems in time. The rest will, regrettably, be forced to take on a harder mission. This goes for everyone, not just for the south.

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