Baltic observers were not the least bit surprised by last week's announcement that ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was taking a top executive position at the North European Gas Pipeline Company, the project dubbed by Baltic and Polish media as the "Putin-Schroeder pact" due to its surreptitious, uncompromising nature. Schroeder's acceptance of the company's chairmanship, many believe (and rightly so), is reflective of the cronyism and lack of ethics that surrounded the project from the very beginning.
While the exact size of Schroeder's salary is still unknown, it is essentially unimportant. By earning privately off a deal he helped put together publicly (whether or not the project is sound economically is beside the point here), he has shown the extent of his own moral turpitude and the degree of corruption surrounding the $5 billion Baltic Sea gas pipeline, the construction of which began last week. Ronald Pofalla, secretary general of Germany's Christian Democratic Union, summed it up perfectly: "An ex-chancellor should know what is appropriate and what duties apply to holder of the office. Gerhard Schroeder has destroyed this confidence. For him, it is not about gas 's it is about money." The Bild opined that Schroeder "risked squandering his political life's work."
A Gazprom official defended the move this week, saying, "This is an important and large-scale project, and for it to develop properly contacts with decision-makers in all countries of the European Union should be secured. This is why having Schroeder in this post seems absolutely correct, justified and appropriate to us and our partners."
But with the hailstorm of criticism pummeling the former Social Democratic leader, it wouldn't hurt to look at things from a different perspective. Forty-nine percent of the pipeline is owned by German entities, and they have the right to nominate whomever they want to top posts. What's more, German companies own a large stake in Gazprom, whose market capitalization is about $140 billion, or about four times the aggregate GDP of all three Baltic countries. It is not impossible that the company will in the near future become the world's largest corporation in terms of market capitalization. And there are Germans on the board of directors.
Herein the alternative viewpoint: In the grand, historical scheme of things, might it not be a reason for celebration that Germany and Russia get along so well that their companies participate in one another's capital and their leaders offer each other jobs? Let's face it: German-Russian antagonism has caused so much tragedy and destruction in the Baltics 's no, all of Europe 's that the Kremlin's decision to invite the former leader of the Bundeskabinett to head an international project could actually be applauded.
While Schroeder's accepting the offer is ethically repugnant, we should welcome the spirit of cooperation between Berlin and Moscow, much of which the former chancellor helped usher in. Let the two countries build their gas pipeline, as long as they provide all the necessary ecological assurances that the Baltic Sea will not suffer in the least. For as the common wisdom holds, business partners don't bomb one another. If this be true, then may the German and Russian economies continue to integrate at full speed. All Europe will be better off.