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Austria and Germany fume over new US sanctions targeting gas pipeline from Russia

Austrian and Germany have lashed out at Washington over new sanctions against Russia that target the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe.

Austria and Germany fume over new US sanctions targeting gas pipeline from Russia
File image of Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern. Photo: AFP

The new penalties, approved by the US Senate on Thursday, include a paragraph that threatens to penalise European companies that push ahead with energy export programmes with Russia.

Those include the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which would pump Russian gas under the Baltic Sea directly to Germany.

“It is strange that in the sanctioning of Russia's behaviour, with regards to the US elections for instance, that the European economy should become a target of American sanctions. That must not happen,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert.

He added that Merkel shared the concerns raised by Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern who charged in a joint statement on Thursday that the measure brings a “completely new and entirely negative quality to European-US relations”.

In a hard-hitting statement, the German and Austrian said they “cannot accept the threat of extra-territorial sanctions against European companies that participate in the expansion of European energy supplies” adding that this would “violate international law”.

They accused Washington of using the sanctions to squeeze Russian gas supplies out of Europe in favour of US energy exports.

“The aim is to secure jobs in gas and oil industries in the US,” said Gabriel and Kern.

“Political sanctions should not be mixed up with economic interests,” they warned, stressing that “Europe's energy supply is Europe's business and not that of the United States”.

“We decide who delivers energy to us and how, according to rules of openness and economic competitiveness,” said Gabriel and Kern.

The bill as originally introduced was exclusively about slapping new sanctions on Iran. But lawmakers attached a bipartisan amendment on Russia to it early this week.

The addition came with the White House deeply embroiled in crisis over whether Trump's campaign team colluded with a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election.

ENERGY

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

Sweden's government has proposed a new law which will remove local municipalities' power to block wind parks in the final stages of the planning process, as part of a four-point plan to speed up the expansion of wind power.

Sweden to stop local governments blocking wind parks in final stages

“We are doing this to meet the increased need for electricity which is going to come as a result of our green industrial revolution,” Strandhäll said at a press conference. 

“It is important to strengthen Sweden by rapidly breaking our dependence on fossil fuels, building out our energy production and restructuring our industry. The Swedish people should not be dependent on countries like Russia to drive their cars or warm their homes.”

“We are going to make sure that municipalities who say “yes” to wind power get increased benefits,” she added in a press statement. “In addition, we are going to increase the speed with which wind power is built far offshore, which can generally neither be seen or heard from land.” 

While municipalities will retain a veto over wind power projects on their territory under the proposed new law, they will have to take their decision earlier in the planning process to prevent wind power developers wasting time and effort obtaining approvals only for the local government to block projects at the final stags. 

“For the local area, it’s mostly about making sure that those who feel that new wind parks noticeably affect their living environment also feel that they see positive impacts on their surroundings as a result of their establishment,” Strandhäll said.  “That might be a new sports field, an improved community hall, or other measures that might make live easier and better in places where wind power is established.” 

According to a report from the Swedish Energy Agency, about half of the wind projects planned since 2014 have managed to get approval. But in recent years opposition has been growing, with the opposition Moderate, Swedish Democrats, and Christian Democrat parties increasingly opposing projects at a municipal level. 

Municipalities frequently block wind park projects right at the end of the planning process following grassroots local campaigns. 

The government a month ago sent a committee report, or remiss, to the Council on Legislation, asking them to develop a law which will limit municipal vetoes to the early stages of the planning process. 

At the same time, the government is launching two inquiries. 

The first will look into what incentives could be given to municipalities to encourage them to allow wind farms on their land, which will deliver its recommendations at the end of March next year. In March, Strandhäll said that municipalities which approve wind farm projects should be given economic incentives to encourage them to accept projects on their land. 

The second will look into how to give the government more power over the approvals process for wind projects under Sweden’s environmental code. This will deliver its recommendations at the end of June next year. 

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