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Is France trying to derail Germany’s key energy plan for Russian gas pipeline?

Is France trying to derail Germany’s key energy plan for Russian gas pipeline?
Paris has vowed to support amendments to a key document that essentially threatens to block the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, developed by its European partners, including one of France’s closest allies Germany, and Russia.

The French Foreign Ministry said that France, which is not part of the project, is working with EU partners including Germany on possible changes to the Gas Directive, stressing that it wants the European Union’s Third Energy Package to be applied to it.

The announcement came on Thursday, one day ahead of a key EU meeting to vote on the matter.

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The Third Energy Package is the EU’s legislation for an internal gas and electricity market. One of its core elements is ownership unbundling, forbidding the same company to generate, transmit and sell energy at the same time. The legislation has been used to hamper Russian energy projects to the EU, including playing a decisive role in the cancellation of Gazprom’s South Stream natural gas pipeline project in 2014.

“The aim of the revision of the gas directive is to apply the rules of the third energy package to all pipelines with third countries entering Europe. The revised directive would apply to the Nord Stream 2 project,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters.

The Foreign Ministry statement confirmed earlier reports by the German outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung. The paper cited sources claiming that Paris wants to support the changes as it fears that deepening dependency on Russian energy can hurt some EU member states, such as Poland and Slovakia, and lead to “strategic problems” between Brussels and Moscow.

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Germany has long been one of the main supporters of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and resisted attempts to change the EU rules. The current regulations do not apply to pipelines like Nord Stream 2, which will deliver Russian gas across the Baltic Sea to Europe. If the amendments are adopted, Brussels will gain leverage over the project.

For France, which relies more on nuclear energy than natural gas, the Nord Stream 2 project is not as critical as it is for Germany. The country's change of heart on the project may undermine Berlin’s attempts to secure the necessary number of votes against the revision.

The $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline is set to deliver Russian natural gas to European consumers. The pipeline is set to run from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea and is expected to double the existing pipeline’s capacity to 110 billion cubic meters. The pipeline, controlled by a subsidiary of Russian energy giant Gazprom, is being built in cooperation with German energy firms Wintershall and Uniper, French multinational Engie, Anglo-Dutch Royal Dutch Shell, as well as Austria’s OMV.

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