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Fiddling while... Berlin freezes?
Their Russia sanctions are boomeranging in a catastrophic way, yet Europe's deluded leaders, clinging to failed policies, cannot change course.
The European energy crisis continues. The previously ailing Siemens gas turbine upon which Nord Stream I, the undersea pipeline that supplies Russian gas to Germany, partly depends, is reportedly back in operation. But now a second unit needs to be serviced, and so this vital pipeline is currently operating at only 20% capacity. While seasonal storage capacity across Europe appears to be on target, this is in and of itself not enough to get us through winter; we also need to be continually resupplied.
Some European countries are more dependent than others on Russian gas; Spain and Portugal get the bulk of their gas from Algeria and are less exposed to potential shortages. However, the European Commission, which never lets a crisis go to waste when it comes to increasing centralized power, wants to impose a EU-wide conservation mandate, a 15% reduction in gas consumption, but wholly unsurprisingly a top-down, one-size fits all approach is not going over well among the member states. EU energy solidarity is coming apart at the seams.
Meanwhile, EU leaders remain detached from reality, pursuing their ideological hobby-horses. EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans (pronouns: “he/him”) recently called for a day of memorial for climate change victims. Certainly we should honor the memory of victims of disasters, whether natural or man-made, but one would like to ask Mr Timmermans: Are you doing everything you can in your considerable power right now to ensure we will have no victims from this energy crisis? Think of people on fixed incomes freezing in unheated homes or dying in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning due to faulty ad hoc heating. Cold weather kills far more people than hot weather.
Timmermans is the European Commission’s “Green Deal” chief — or perhaps, given his missionary zeal, evangelist would be the better term. The dramatic reduction of carbon emissions proposed under this scheme would impact virtually every aspect of modern life, hence they would have to be planned and executed skillfully and carefully. But that fact that Europe is now burning more coal to compensate for the loss of Russian gas suggests not all is going according to plan.
Has it never occurred to Timmermans that if such an ambitious plan is unrealistic, it will not only fail, but also set environmental progress back? But Timmermans, a cartoonish figure, who exudes the rancid air of a hidebound Cold War warrior, is in a strident mood. Putin, he says, is the face of climate threat. “Fighting for democracy against Russia” is worth facing higher energy prices. Perhaps Timmermans will join Germany’s Green Party Energy Minister Robert Habeck in taking shorter showers to teach Vladimir Putin a harsh and bitter lesson.
Because he is part of an autocratic governing framework (the EU) that neither requires nor seeks any kind of broad public validation, Timmerman’s seemingly Utopian Green Deal could well fail (solar panels and wind turbines cannot support a modern industrial economy, Europe cannot do without Russian fossil fuels), and a few poor souls may freeze to death this winter, but it is safe to say that there will be no consequences for him, nor, at least in the short term, for the administrative state of which he serves. At the end of his five-year term in 2024, he will no doubt fail upward and move to another privileged position. NATO, the World Bank, the UN?
Watching this sad saga unfold is like being transported back to the final days of the Romanov dynasty in imperial Russia. An isolated, out-of-touch leadership, a broken, unresponsive bureaucracy, intractable foreign entanglements, a restless citizenry — in our case certainly not revolutionary however. Then and now, as banal as it may sound, this is why democracy is indispensable. Not the rituals of parliamentary democracy that have been so hollowed out and corrupted in our liberal democracies, but democracy as a systemic feedback loop. Are we addressing peoples needs? Is what we are doing working? What are the unintended consequences of our actions? Are the right people in the right place at the right time? Outcomes matter.