If you take a brief look back at German-Nordic bilateral relations over the centuries, a history of fluctuating diplomacy is revealed; their interactions have certainly not always been friendly. But, at present, and for the tangible recent past, their connection can largely only be characterised as amicable, if not even mutually beneficial.
In fact, as the crises of the past rollercoaster of a year stack up, Germany and one Scandinavian country in particular seem to be riding the wave together, strengthening bilateral ties, and collaboratively helping to curb everything from climate change to Putin’s war in Ukraine as an unofficial duo. This country is Norway.
What’s interesting, is that this change in dynamic between the two European countries comes at a somewhat challenging time for Germany; after 16 years of sturdy leadership under Angela Merkel, 2022 ended up being a fairly turbulent year for the country and its newly elected Chancellor, Olaf Scholz.
Replacing Merkel in the top spot was never going to be easy for any newcomer – especially in the tailwind of the pandemic – but Scholz’ introduction to the role of German Chancellor and de facto figurehead of the EU has, in reality, been nothing short of a baptism of fire.
Many suggest that under Scholz – for better or worse – a new era for Germany has begun, one where the rift with France seems to be widening, yet ties with Norway are becoming stronger by the day.
Just over two months into his leadership, Scholz was faced with the first domino fall of 2022: Putin invading Ukraine.
Off the back of this conflict came a tide of unprecedented fallout that the continent did not expect, and was certainly not prepared for. Fuel, grain and gas shortages caused both energy and food crises that threatened European trade, infrastructure and livelihoods, and the already high covid-induced inflation rate was pushed through the roof, triggering an economic cost-of-living crisis in its stead.
Not to mention, all of this occurred against a backdrop of an escalating climate crisis and back-to-back extreme weather.
90 Minuten Telefonat mit #Putin: Russland muss seine Truppen aus der #Ukraine zurückziehen und die Souveränität und territoriale Integrität anerkennen. Anders ist eine diplomatische Lösung nicht vorstellbar. pic.twitter.com/OizvxZHwiE
— Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz (@Bundeskanzler) September 13, 2022
Cracks across the continent understandably began to show, and as the EU’s economic powerhouse, Germany was looked upon by the rest of the bloc to take the lead in defining Europe’s path out of the mire, just as “Mutti Merkel” would have no doubt previously done with ironclad resolve.
But over the course of the past year of turbulence, Scholz has repeatedly shown that he does not share Merkel’s approach to leadership, nor her views on Germany’s place in the EU for that matter.
According to Scholz’ biographer, Lars Haider, rather than commandeering the bloc as the previously coined “reluctant hegemon,” Scholz’ vision for a successful EU involves Germany taking a step back and operating as an important but equal player in leading a unified Europe alongside the other member countries.
Scholz’ post-pandemic, post-Ukraine war Germany is no longer the flagship of the fleet, but is instead aiming to become more of an equal-sized puzzle piece in the jigsaw of Europe; a vision which has been reflected in many of his new policies and practices throughout 2022.
This portrait of a wealthy, independent, collaborative yet primarily self-interested European state, with its own voice and prerogative, reminds you of which other country?
Norway – Germany’s new muse
It would be naive to think that Scholz aspires to model his version of Germany on Norway, but perhaps not too much of a stretch to believe he may see mutual benefit in collaborating with a nation which resembles the European independence he wishes to bestow on Germany, and in many ways shares his own national priorities and perspectives.
For example, a parallel can perhaps be drawn between Norway’s active prioritisation of state welfare and possession of one of the largest sovereign funds in the world, and Scholz’ administration’s recent sweeping social welfare reforms across German legislation.
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What’s more, like the rest of the world, the EU is aggressively pursuing ambitious climate targets, so reinforcing collaboration with one of the world’s longest standing pioneers and providers of renewable energy sources could be a smart move both practically and politically.
Olaf Scholz actually visited Norway in August 2022 to hold talks which “underlined the close friendship between Germany and the Nordic countries.”
Aside from shared perspectives and policies though, why would Germany want to specifically bolster diplomacy with Norway now?
Connecting the remaining dots shouldn’t be too challenging, given current global priorities.
Europe is in the midst of an energy crisis, and Norway (as it always has) possesses an abundant supply of natural gas and oil reserves it wants to sell.
As energy supplies initially waned in the wake of the war in Ukraine last year, instead of scaling up renewable technologies to provide a cleaner alternative, Germany instead opted to up national reliance on fossil fuels. And after the Nordstream was cut off last September, Scholz immediately began looking for alternative ways to source Germany’s supply of natural gas.
Before the cutoff, Germany was receiving 52% of its gas supplies from Russia, but this has now fallen to a supply of just 22%, with Norway stepping up to replace Russia as Germany’s biggest supplier of gas, currently supplying the country with 33% of its gas imports.
“We can rely on Norway,” said Scholz at the German-Nordic meeting last year, in relation to the increased deliveries of natural gas from Norway to Germany.
After their summit in #Oslo yesterday: @Bundeskanzler Scholz praised #Norway as a reliable energy supplier, while @jonasgahrstore highlighted #Germany as an essential industrial partner in the #energy sector. Both stressed the importance of continued close cooperation. 🇳🇴🇩🇪 https://t.co/mjGyfeDUKJ
— AHK Norwegen (@AHKNorwegen) August 16, 2022
In fact, many of Germany’s energy crisis decisions have not gone down well with the rest of Europe, and Scholz’ strategy – or even sequence of potential missteps – as well as his reluctance to step up as leader of the EU, has resulted in swathes of criticism from other member states.
One of the major disputes was centred around energy subsidies. When high energy bills began decimating European households, Scholz dropped a support package of €200 billion for the German population (far larger than any other country in Europe could afford). This independent move was dubbed by the EU as selfish, who warned it would provide Germany with a national advantage, would not encourage a shift towards clean energy, and could risk breaking up the bloc.
Norway’s climate image has also been on the rocks recently, as its ongoing advocacy for renewable energy has been tarnished by simultaneously reaping enormous profits from high natural gas demands in light of the energy crisis; an energy paradox which has opened the country up to widespread accusations of hypocrisy.
This perhaps sheds some light on why the two countries seem to have gone from nought to sixty in churning out joint climate advocacy collaborations lately, cooperation which the German Federal Governement claims aims to “massively accelerate the expansion of renewable energies,” but could also serve a dual purpose in helping to smooth things over for both countries’ reputations.
Earlier this month Germany and Norway signed a deal to build a new hydrogen pipeline between the two countries by 2030. The pipeline will initially deliver “blue” hydrogen (hydrogen produced from natural gas) and will eventually move on to deliver only “green” hydrogen (hydrogen produced from renewable sources) to German power plants, allowing Germany to move away from its reliance on coal.
Norway and Germany agree to expand cooperation to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck is in Norway this week. https://t.co/OBGyuNUj96@jonasgahrstore @BMWK @oeddep @NFdep @kldep @NorwayMFA
— SMK (@Statsmin_kontor) January 5, 2023
In addition to this, the two countries have also signed a deal to collaboratively focus on scaling up and rolling out battery technologies, offshore wind infrastructure, and improved carbon capture and storage.
One such carbon capture initiative for which both Germany and Norway have pledged millions in investment, is a Norwegien project to capture the carbon emissions released in cement production at the German multinational building materials company, Heidelberg Materials.
Both countries were also the first nations to step up and offer to unfreeze their contributions to the “Amazon fund;” a global support program aimed at funding environmental protection efforts in the Amazon, previously frozen under Brazil’s President Bolsonaro’s leadership, but has now been opened once again by newly re-elected President Lula.
They have also both agreed to jointly provide Columbia with $25 million in order to help the country curb its own deforestation.
Benefits all round
Germany and Norway seem to be aligning on everything from Putin to the Amazon, and along with all the reasons mentioned above, it’s possible that joining forces could bring benefits to a myriad of domestic and bilateral meta-factors for both countries.
For example, Norway’s paradoxical abundance of both natural gas and renewable energy sources possibly stands to appease the other climate polar-opposite members of Scholz’ coalition: The Free Democratic Party and The Greens, and Norway’s other abundance of clean tech startups could certainly benefit from generous German investment.
However, although the duo almost certainly has ulterior political and economic motives in mind, at the end of the day, whatever the many motivations may entail, the end result of climate and environmental solidarity, advocacy, action and mitigation, benefits us all regardless.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: The Prime Minister of Norway, Jonas Gahr Støre, and the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz. Featured Photo Credit: NATO/Flickr