By Paul Homewood
How would you like to be told by the government to spend no more than five minutes in the shower – or even urged to share a bath with a friend? That’s what’s happening in Germany, where energy rationing now looks inevitable. The crisis caused by Berlin’s dependence on Russian gas and oil makes our own cost of living crisis pale by comparison.
This week there was alarm across the Continent when Russia switched off the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, supposedly for “routine maintenance”, until next week. Will the Kremlin switch it back on again? Vladimir Putin promises that Russia is still “ready to fulfill its obligations”, but few now trust the butcher of Bucha.
Not only the German public but their government are panicking about what will happen next. Gas is being stored in huge underground freezers, but unless usage is drastically cut, supplies are expected to run out by January.
If so, Germany would face its worst slump since the 1940s, with the economy shrinking by more than 12 per cent, production in the flagship car industry collapsing by 17 per cent and up to six million jobs at risk. Family fuel bills are already due to rise by €2,000 per annum, and there are plans to provide emergency accommodation in town halls for those unable to heat their homes.
Hence Robert Habeck, the Green Party Vice-Chancellor, is appealing to families to reduce consumption. “I’ve never showered for [as long as] five minutes in my life,” he says. The energy minister boasts that he turns off his heating all day in winter because he is always out. This is cold comfort for families and the elderly, who don’t have a warm ministerial office to go to. Yet some landlords are already threatening to turn down the heating in blocks of flats, while local authorities are even switching off street lights.
Germans used to lecture their neighbours about environmental virtue. Not any more: fossil fuels such as gas are now deemed to be “clean”, while coal-fired power stations are back in business.
A bitter blame game has erupted over the disastrous decision to exit from nuclear power a decade ago, leaving the country wholly reliant on Russia. The reputation of the once-idolised Angela Merkel is in tatters, but her successor, Olaf Scholz, is held responsible by two thirds of voters for the failure to safeguard energy security. The entire German political establishment has been caught with its environmentalist trousers down. Even a normally docile press cannot ignore the rank hypocrisy of an elite that preached “net-zero” to the rest of Europe but is now moving in the opposite direction.
That collective hypocrisy goes far beyond the politics of energy. Despite their crocodile tears about the war, to save their own skins Scholz and his coalition are in effect throwing Ukraine under a bus. Apart from a handful of howitzers, Berlin has neither given Kyiv heavy weapons nor boosted their production.
Meanwhile, Scholz’s much-trumpeted hike in military spending, announced last February, turns out to have been a flash in the pan. Germany’s depleted armed forces are to be cut back even further next year.
Even the supposedly hawkish Green foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, now merely wrings her hands, saying that “there is nothing to be done”. The prospect of rationing has already caused public support for backing Ukraine to decline: as food and energy prices continue to rise, 38 per cent of Germans want no punitive action against Russia.
Scholz is attempting to placate both his Nato allies and Putin, but has earned the respect of neither. In eastern, central and northern Europe, meanwhile, Germany under Scholz is more despised and distrusted than at any time since 1945.
Either an almighty bust-up in Berlin is coming, with a real possibility that the ruling “traffic light” coalition will implode, or it will capitulate to Putin.
Last week Scholz and his colleagues were toasting the fall of Boris Johnson. But the German Chancellor faces a nightmare scenario of his own; his schadenfreude may prove to be short-lived.
Once admired and envied, Germany is now the textbook example of how much damage a misguided foreign and energy policy may do.
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July 13, 2022 at 12:09PM