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Battle of the Gasbags

No longer together in government, Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer are lobbying for competing gas pipelines. This could get ugly.

4:20 PM, Feb 16, 2010 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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The headline in Der Spiegel says it all: "Who Has the Longer Pipeline?" Five years after Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer served in the same coalition government—the former as chancellor and the latter as foreign minister—both men are now working in various capacities for different natural gas companies with competing pipelines to Germany.

Battle of the Gasbags

Most everyone knows that following the 2005 elections, Schröder wasted no time in joining Gazprom, a company he favored while still chancellor. Needless to say, the move was viewed cynically by Germans who, in the words of Der Spiegel's Ralph Neukirch, "don't like to see a former chancellor swiftly turn into an elder salesman instead of an elder statesman." But now, Fischer, the former head of the Foreign Ministry and environmentalist extraordinaire, has also found work as an adviser for companies like BMW, Siemens, and Austrian energy giant OMV. All of which amuses Schröder to no end.

The way the ex-chancellor sees it, his Nord Stream pipeline bypasses other countries via the Baltic Sea, delivering Russian gas directly to Germany without the threats of instability stemming from, say, the Ukrainians. (Basically, if they can't pay their bills, let them freeze. Mir ist egal.) And even better, this pipeline does not involve Iran, something Schröder is certain will happen with the Nabucco pipeline, which Fischer is backing.

The ex-foreign minister, however, argues that of higher importance is lessening dependence on Putin's Russia and the unsavory ties that result. Neukirch must have enjoyed watching the back-and-forth between the two—the tension has been building for years. (Even before they worked together, as Neukirch reminds us, they already disliked each other. In a joint interview with Stern in 1997, Fischer called Schröder "His Highness" while Schröder likened their parties' working together to a restaurant in which one was the chef and the other—Fischer's Green party—the waiter.) It won't be long before the fat jokes start flying.

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