After several months of threats, September began with the news that The Russian gas company Gazprom stopped deliveries to Germany indefinitely – and consequently to part of the rest of the EU – via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Now, in a race against time in the face of an approaching winter with reduced gas reserves, Berlin is intensifying efforts to find new energy partners to replace Russian hydrocarbon supplies. Both in the short term, with a view to the coming months, and in the medium and long term, in order to reduce German and European energy dependency and vulnerability.
Against this background Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced a two-day state visit to the Gulf region. Specifically, the German head of state – accompanied by a “high-ranking business delegation,” as government spokesman Steffen Heepstrait said at a press conference – will travel to Saudi Arabia at the weekend, the world’s second-largest oil producer after the United States, Qatar, the fifth-largest gas producer, and the United Arab Emirates Emirates, also a major player in the hydrocarbon market.
Reestablishment of relations between Berlin and Riyadh
The first stop on Scholz’ tour is expected to be in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh. There, the German head of state will meet – for the first time since he took office – Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud “if his health permits” and the crown prince and “de facto” leader of the kingdom, Mohammed bin Salman. Scholz “attributes great importance to the outcome of these talks,” diplomatic sources at the German embassy in Riyadh appeared to tell Al Arab.
Diplomatic relations between Berlin and Riyadh have been strained since the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in late 2018 at the consulate of the Wahhabi Kingdom in Istanbul, Turkey. leading to a rift between the two countries, and Germany’s decision to ban arms exports to all parties involved in the war in Yemen (including Saudi Arabia). These are issues that, in Heepstrait’s words, “will certainly be raised in the talks”.
Additionally, “the energy crisis, the effects of the war in Ukraine, […]the Iran dossier and the agenda of the next G20 summitplanned for November on the Indonesian island of Bali” – said the diplomatic source consulted by Al Arab – will also be present in a discussion agenda aimed at “correcting the course of relations between the two countries”.
For his part, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan Al Saud was quick to praise historic Saudi-German economic, investment and trade relations. Working together on issues related to Saudi’s Vision 2030 program appears to be a major joint investment opportunity for the authorities of Riyadh. Especially in the fields of industry, culture, renewable energy and military cooperation.
Abu Dhabi and Doha
Scholz’ diplomatic trip to the Gulf will end on Sunday after separate meetings with Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahayan and Qatar Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani each morning and afternoon. Then he should return to Germany.
Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck said during Scholz’ stay in the Gulf, Berlin is aiming to secure several contracts to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) to replace Russian supplies – which accounted for 55 percent of German demand before the war in Ukraine. Especially with its counterpart from the Emirates, which according to the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology has already started sending green hydrogen energy tests to the European country this month in order to “create a hydrogen value chain between Germany and the UAE”. “In the medium term, this test delivery lays an important foundation for hydrogen imports, which will also be environmentally friendly.”
Meanwhile, talks with Doha appear to have stalled for several weeks, despite Berlin’s efforts to negotiate with one of the world’s top LNG exporters since Russia’s “special military operation” began in Ukraine in February. These efforts prompted Habeck to visit the country in March. Qatar plays a complicated role in setting prices and the duration of potential deals, but several German officials have criticized it that did not exclude the small Gulf state from Scholz’ tour.
The fact is the great energy dependency – no longer just German, but European – in terms of sources, suppliers and import routes has made Europe very vulnerable to global conflicts and imbalances. Technical and infrastructural complications in procuring third-party gas are now making short-term supply more difficult in order to survive a winter without gas.