Berlin — German authorities have suspended the certification procedure for the Nord Stream 2 gas project, marking another setback for the controversial underwater pipeline designed to bring Russian gas to Germany and Europe.
Although the construction of Nord Stream 2 has been completed and it has been filled with gas, the actual delivery of the gas depends on Nord Stream receiving the correct approvals from regulators.
The lack of approval so far, with winter approaching and gas demand set to rise, is a source of increasing tension between Moscow and Berlin.
"Following a thorough examination of the documentation, the Federal Network Agency concluded that it would only be possible to certify an operator of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if that operator was organized in a legal form under German law," the agency said in a Tuesday statement.
The agency explained that a subsidiary set up to govern the German part of the pipeline did not fulfil the conditions to be a "independent transmission operator."
"The subsidiary must then fulfil the requirements of an independent transmission operator as set out in the German Energy Industry Act," it said.
Until "the main assets and human resources have been transferred to the subsidiary" and this step has been verified, the certification procedure would be suspended, the agency said.
The consortium behind the pipeline, whose majority shareholder is Russian energy giant Gazprom, said on Tuesday it was taking steps to ensure that it complies with German regulations.
The subsidiary based in Germany would "ensure compliance with applicable rules and regulations," said Nord Stream AG, according to state news agency TASS.
Germany's Economy Ministry said it was correct that the pipeline should only be allowed to operate if it is on a proper legal basis. "This must now be put into practice," said a ministry spokesperson.
The Federal Network Agency approval is not the last step however - after it has examined the certification, it still needs to send a report to the European Commission for an opinion as per EU legislation.
Four months remain for this to happen, the agency said.
The construction phase of Nord Stream 2 was dogged by accusations - notably from Washington, but also from countries in Eastern Europe - that it would mean letting Russia have too much power in the European gas market.
Recently, Green Party leader Annalena Baerbock - whose party is currently in negotiations to form the next German government - argued that Nord Stream 2 should not be granted an operating licence for the time being.
In an interview with the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe, she accused Russia of a "poker game" in view of rising energy prices across Europe. "We must not allow ourselves to be blackmailed," she said.
The outgoing conservative-led government has refused to intervene in the pipeline, arguing that it is a business project and not a political issue.
The Economy Ministry in Berlin has previously said that it believes the pipeline does not endanger gas supplies to Germany or Europe.
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