Obstructing Nord Stream II: Swedish Style Hardball
It is a typical Swedish story in which a small town makes a big decision with significant foreign policy implications.
A consequential decision takes place after public consultation, which features two cabinet members going to two small towns to persuade local politicians to act in the broader-than-local interest, while the Prime Minister ensures there is fair sharing of the incurred costs.
The decision itself will make Sweden more popular in its Baltic neighbourhood, except Germany. In the end, no one is too happy and no one totally defeated.
The Gazprom offer
The story begins with Gazprom extending a lucrative offer to lease the Port of Gotland, a small island community in Sweden, for the construction of the Nord Stream II pipeline. Kalshamn, another small port town on the Baltic coast with 20,000 people is made a similar offer.
The Russian-German project is about the construction of a 1,200km natural gas underwater pipeline from St. Petersburg to Germany via Swedish territorial waters. The offer on the table is for the storage of pipes for the construction of Nord Stream II natural gas network. That is millions of Kroner in public revenue and too many good jobs for any small town to ignore, anywhere.
No wonder the project enjoyed some public support.
Stockholm makes it clear it objects to the deal on three grounds.
First, unlike Berlin, Stockholm and Warsaw object to developing the project following the invasion of Crimea, while sanctions against Russia are still on the table. Principles come at a cost. Secondly, the idea of bypassing Ukraine and Poland to supply directly the lucrative German market appears to Sweden a bad deal for Europe. Solidarity comes at a cost.
Thirdly, for national security reasons, the government believes that the use of the port undermines Swedish security. Lying across the Russian Baltic coast, Gotland is small but militarily strategic. No one really likes the idea of a Russian state-owned company being anywhere near it, or under it, or off its coast.
Of course, the ultimate decision rests with two local authorities.
The Swedish government consulted with the two local authorities on Tuesday. However, the Minister of Defense, Peter Hultavist, and the Foreign Minister, Margot Wallstrom, committed to respect the decision of the municipalities. They still made their way to meet with local politicians and make their case.
Making the decision and sharing its cost
Alas, a decision in Gotland was made on Wednesday, but it will be made official on Thursday.
The answer is “no,” Radio Sweden Reports.
There is no legal way of stopping the project. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven is considering compensating the local councils, TT news agency reported.
In September, the Swedish government considered making a legal case against Nord Stream II on environmental grounds, preventing the laying of pipelines in its exclusive economic zone. Of course, the problem at hand was consenting to Nord Stream I five years ago, which set a legal precedent.
Sweden can only try to obstruct the project, through public consultation and burden-sharing. It is still hardball, but Swedish style.