Editorial of the “World”. Like a deer in the headlights of a car, the German government has been caught for a month in the trap of Russian gas, on which the economy and consumers across the Rhine are highly dependent. What had been perceived for two decades in Berlin as a win-win market, including from a geopolitical angle, has turned out with the Russian aggression of Ukraine not only to be a formidable lever for Moscow on Europe, but also a veritable economic and social time bomb.
Only two months ago, Chancellor Olaf Scholz thought he could resist the pressure of several of his European partners and that of the Greens, his coalition partners, who demanded the abandonment of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. He had to give in. The gas pipeline affair appears today as a minor subject, compared to the magnitude of the challenge that the European Union now faces: to break completely with Russia as a source of fossil fuels. As Western sanctions rain down on Vladimir Putin’s regime, it is no longer acceptable for European economies to continue to help finance his war in Ukraine by paying him $700 million (€626 million) every day. in hydrocarbon purchases.
The task is the toughest for Germany, which imports 55% of its gas from Russia. Putin’s threat to demand payment in rubles for these hydrocarbons added to the confusion. The Europeans refused; the Russian president softened his stance by calling Mr. Scholz and his Italian colleague, Mario Draghi, on Wednesday March 30 – thus betraying his own dependence on the financial resources that gas brings him. But Berlin now knows that it must give up Russian gas and that, in the context of the war in Ukraine, the rupture can be brutal. The time for denial is over.
After a few days of intense debate, the German government has visibly taken stock of the urgency. On Wednesday, he mentioned the triggering of energy rationing measures and the setting up of a crisis unit in the event of a stoppage of Russian supplies. The Minister of Economy and Climate, Robert Habeck (Greens), has launched an information campaign to alert public opinion to the possible effects of such a decision: “We are in a situation where I must make it clear that every kilowatt hour of energy saved is useful”, he said.
This insight is welcome. Chancellor Scholz had indeed given the impression in recent days of procrastinating, faced with the seriousness of the foreseeable consequences for the German economy. “The question is not whether we will have to lower the heating by a few degreeshe replied on a television program on Sunday. The question is whether we will be able to supply certain structures. The question is mobility. And the question is an incredible number of jobs, because a lot of industrial processes depend on coal, gas and oil. »
But it’s not just a German question. The weight of the German economy in Europe and the integration of EU economies mean that the urgency of Berlin’s reaction to do without Russian gas concerns all of its European partners. The possible prospect of having to manage a war economy requires European coordination and solidarity at least equivalent to that which has been implemented to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.