Brussels (Brussels Morning) During a foreign policy debate between the three most prominent candidates seeking to become Germany’s next chancellor, the Christian Democratic Union’s (CDU) Armin Laschet took a tough stance against Russia, saying the Nord Stream 2 pipeline could be stopped at any time were Moscow to veer from its commitments to the Ukraine.
During the debate, the conservative Laschet mostly clashed with the idealistic Greens’ leader Annalena Baerbock. The Social Democrats’ (SPD) Olaf Scholz tried to take the middle ground and present himself as the most versatile and experienced candidate.
Talking about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, the almost completed Russian-German energy project that has been blasted by those who maintain it would enable Moscow to blackmail Ukraine into making political concessions, Baerbock reasserted her view that the project must be scrapped. She reiterated her claim that its primary purpose is to harm the Ukraine and circumvent sanctions.
Laschet and Scholz insisted that from the German perspective, the project was purely economic. Both took the position that, even when completed, the pipeline could easily be shut down if required. Laschet said it could be stopped at any time were President Vladimir Putin to use it to the detriment of Ukraine.
Discussing Hungary’s apparent slide towards authoritarianism and citing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s crackdown on the free press, civil society and LGBT minorities, Laschet argued that the matter should be left to the European Court of Justice. Baerbock, on the other hand, wants the EU to cut off Hungary from EU funds until it complies with the rule of law standards.
Scholz, again stuck to the middle ground and, drawing on his experience as vice-chancellor and Finance Minister, said Germany should work on empowering local pro-democracy actors and politicians with demonstrable European values such as Budapest’s Mayor Gergely Karacsony, the most likely opposition candidate for PM in the next Hungarian elections.
Baerbock also took the hardest line on China, saying that the EU should not be importing any products from the Xinjiang region, where Beijing is actively engaged in suppression of the Muslim Uyghur minority. Laschet emphasised the need to keep talking to China as a partner in combating climate change, while Scholz also opposed the idea of isolating Beijing, noting that trying to divide the world would be to fall into “a trap”.