Written by 5:00 am Europe Economy

How decades of complacency have left Germany facing a cold, dark winter

But the panic and indignation now brewing go far beyond the ranks of the “unteachable” extremists.

Germans sense that unaccountable elites have ceded control of their country’s destiny to Putin. The more they are must pay him for Russian gas, the bigger his war chest with which to perpetrate genocide in Ukraine.

Forcing Germany to be complicit in a colossal crime against humanity is a diabolical twist in the vengeance that Putin is now exacting upon Europe for backing Ukraine. According to The Economist’s Christian Odendahl, at present prices Germany will need to spend 8.4 per cent of its GDP on gas. Hitherto it was just 1 per cent.

Already preparations are underway for central heating to be rationed or even switched off, forcing residents to seek shelter in schools or town halls.

The country is scrambling to reduce its reliance on gas with a campaign to make households cut back, and a massive national effort has brought gas storage levels up to 81 per cent full.

Food prices, meanwhile, rose at a rate of nearly 15 per cent in July. Those who fear being unable to afford to heat their homes or feed their families are prey to angst and anger.

Actions have consequences… or do they?

Few foresaw the Russian invasion of Ukraine, let alone its devastating consequences for Europe. But it is dawning on the German people that the seeds of the present crisis were sown over the quarter of a century from 1998 to 2022, under Angela Merkel and her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. 

These were the years of plenty for Germany, when Berlin dominated the European Union, ensuring that its export-led economy benefited from the single currency while loading the social costs on to its poorer neighbours. But Germany’s dirty secret was cheap Russian energy.

Under Schröder – who went on to become one of Putin’s “useful idiots” – German industry began to abandon its postwar reliance on coal and nuclear energy in favour of Russian gas and renewables. 

In 2011, after the Fukushima accident, Mrs Merkel announced that all German nuclear power plants would be closed down. It was a pyrrhic victory for the Greens but backed by all the major parties. Public opinion had been turned against nuclear energy in the 1980s by the Soviet-funded “peace movement”. Now the Greens are the keystone of the Scholz coalition.

Even in the country’s present predicament, Robert Habeck, the Green Vice-Chancellor and Environment Minister, is refusing to reverse the exit from nuclear to alleviate the energy crisis, though it is still possible over time to reactivate a number of nuclear power stations. 

Yet Berlin is demanding that 26 other EU member states make huge cuts in energy use this winter to help Germany – to the irritation of the Spanish and others, who don’t depend on Russian gas and recall lectures from Berlin during the eurozone crisis about actions having consequences.

For decades, the Kremlin acted as Germany’s geopolitical drug-dealer, tempting Berlin to become ever more addicted to the energy that fuelled its manufacturing, pharmaceutical and chemical factories. Now that the Germans are about to go cold turkey, they are discovering how cynically the national interest was betrayed by their politicians and captains of industry.

With Schröder as its salesman, a new Nord Stream 2 pipeline was built under the Baltic Sea — with the blessing of Mrs Merkel, who fended off Anglo-American pressure to cancel what was regarded as a threat to European energy security.

Last year, as Russian tanks massed on the Ukrainian border and Nato warned of imminent invasion, Gazprom redoubled its efforts to keep the flagship project on track. 

The Russian energy giant poured €192 million (£163m) into an environmental foundation set up by Manuela Schwesig, the Social Democratic premier of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern — the state that hosted Nord Stream 2 and stood to gain most. She proceeded to denounce the US for opposing the pipeline, claiming that American sanctions were purely self-interested.

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