EThere is still good news from France. In the Lorraine hamlet of Obergailbach, the conversion work has been completed so that gas could flow from France to Germany for the first time on Thursday. The promise of solidarity that President Emmanuel Macron made just over a month ago is thus taking shape. Technical obstacles were overcome unbureaucratically in an amazingly short time.
So far, only Russian gas has flowed west via the transfer point on the Saarland border. Deliveries from France are to cover up to five percent of German demand in the future. Conversely, the government in Paris is hoping for electricity from Germany because 26 nuclear power plants are temporarily out of action due to maintenance or repair work.
“Agree to disagree” is no longer possible
This ad hoc solidarity agreement bodes well for the Franco-German Council of Ministers on October 26 in Fontainebleau. But she will not be able to hide how divided the energy issue is almost 60 years after the signing of the Elysée Treaty and threatens to poison relations. The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine shattered the fragile basis of the Franco-German energy consensus. After the German nuclear phase-out, Berlin and Paris agreed not to block the other path. But an “agree to disagree” policy no longer works.
It would be time to give France’s arguments new interest and not to dismiss them outright as those of a “nuclear power nation”. President Macron has diplomatically indicated that Germany is transitioning from dependence on Russia to new dependence on authoritarian states. There is also a risk that climate protection goals will be neglected. Macron emphasized on television on Wednesday evening that the phase-out of coal power is a priority for climate protection. It sounded like an echo of Greta Thunberg’s recent comments. In France there is a broad social consensus that nuclear power is the best way to reduce CO2balance sheet is better than coal power.
Now nobody in Paris is demanding that Germany build new nuclear power plants. But President Macron is also promoting a reassessment of nuclear power for security of supply in the EU in Berlin. For him, the energy mix of the future can only consist of energy saving, renewables and nuclear power.
The green taboo on nuclear power
The Franco-German debate on this subject falls far short of its potential. The instruments created by the Aachen Treaty are not being used. The council of Franco-German economic experts, which even has a basis in international law thanks to Article 20, has not been asked by the government for recommendations. Insiders suspect that this was deliberately avoided in Berlin. A Franco-German compromise proposed by the renowned economists harbors the risk that the green taboo on nuclear power will be shaken. But there are also structural reasons why the Council finds it difficult to fulfill its mandate. There is not even money for a secretariat for the body.
An attempt was made on the part of France to work out Franco-German proposals for an EU without gas from Russia after the start of the Russian war of aggression, but before the complete cessation of Russian gas supplies. Negotiations on a bilateral solidarity agreement on energy supply are also making only sluggish progress.
This shows how little the expectations of the Aachen contract have been fulfilled. When the gas supply is reorganized, the ruthlessness with which the federal government pushed through Nord Stream 2 against well-intentioned advice from Paris is temporarily returning. In the talks on the construction of the Midcat pipeline, the Chancellor played Spain off against France. Macron has now taken the initiative to negotiate directly with the Spanish Prime Minister.
The counter-arguments from Paris deserve attention. Building a gas transit link through vineyards and nature reserves would not only be costly and environmentally harmful. It would take years due to the resistance to be expected and contradicts the German intention to use gas only as a bridging technology. The striking refinery workers are showing the French President just how much public life remains dependent on fossil fuels. Right now, the Federal Chancellor and President should show that Franco-German cooperation is not just a fair-weather event.