New German CDU leader Supports Nord Stream 2

BERLIN (Reuters) — The new chairman of Germany's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) said on Monday he would not reconsider his support for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to take Russian natural gas to Europe, despite U.S. and European opposition to its completion.

Armin Laschet, whose election as CDU leader this month puts him in pole position to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, urged Russia to release Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny. But when pressed on domestic energy supply, he said "Germany decides".

Asked if he would be prepared to think again about the pipeline, Laschet replied: "No."

The pipeline, which would double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream link from Russia to Germany and bypass Ukraine, has met resistance from Washington, which wants to sell its own sea-borne liquefied natural gas to Europe.

Washington says Nord Stream 2 would increase Russia's economic and political leverage over the region. But Russia and Germany have long said it is just a commercial project.

EU lawmakers passed a resolution on Thursday calling for the bloc to stop the completion of the Nord Stream 2 in response to Navalny's arrest.

The consortium behind the pipeline said on Sunday a pipe-laying vessel has already started work in Danish waters ahead of the resumption of construction that was suspended in December 2019 following a threat of U.S. sanctions.

More than 90% of the project, led by Russian gas giant Gazprom, is already complete.

Referencing his call for Navalny's immediate release, Laschet said this was a point of principle, "but you still have to look for opportunities to cooperate," he added.

Germany and Russia, he said, had maintained academic and business ties even at the height of the Cold War.

"A Paris agreement on climate change without Russia is only half effective, so this is an area where we have to cooperate with each other to find good solutions," he told reporters.

Asked whether Germany could be open to changing its position on Nord Stream 2 after Merkel speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden, Laschet replied:

"We will talk in great detail about the direction of the relationship. Only, the question of Germany's energy supply is ultimately a question that Germany decides, in the European context."

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