Bavaria: Söder is looking for new energy sources in Croatia – Bavaria

No Croatian, but Spanish, anyway. “Solamente Bavaria”, says Markus Söder, only the press from Bavaria please. He’s already standing in a throng of reporters, cameras, microphones, exactly his weather. And the sun is still shining on this mild Thursday, twelve degrees. In the sky the gulls, behind him a ship, a monster, 280 meters long, 43 meters wide. No, not a cruise ship, of course the Bavarian Prime Minister did not come to take a vacation. What lies so peacefully here in the harbor is a floating terminal for liquid gas, LNG, with a labyrinth of pipes, lines and crane arms on deck. “Bavaria is looking for energy for the future,” says the Prime Minister. Here, in Croatia, he might have found what he was looking for, on the holiday island of Krk.

11.48 a.m., please line up for the group photo. Posing: Two heads of state and a man who, as is well known, would have liked to become head of state. On the left Karl Nehammer, Austria’s Chancellor, in the middle the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, on the right Markus Söder, who wants to make Bavaria “not only more independent from Russia”, but also “more independent from the north” of the Federal Republic. Most recently, Söder has repeatedly celebrated his alienation from Berlin, speaking of the “free south” and the “traffic light north”. In Croatia, he emphasizes that the flight time to Krk is “significantly shorter” than that to Berlin. This alone shows “where sewing and connections are”. Söder has little left for Berlin at the moment, only Bavaria counts for him, solamente Bavaria.

Söder has the 2023 state election in mind – and he sees a problem: while the federal government wants to import more liquid gas to be shipped to northern Germany, Bavaria has neither a seaport nor lines that could bring the LNG straight to the south. Gas imports in Bavaria are technically geared towards Russia, from where around 90 percent of the natural gas consumed in Bavaria came. The main direction of the lines and pipelines is from east to west. Söder has therefore been calling for southern pipelines for some time, for example from Trieste in Italy to Bavaria. And now from Croatia. He wants to show that he is acting himself, instead of always demanding from the federal government.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic (centre) and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer (right) are familiar with the energy concerns of Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (left).

(Photo: Peter Kneffel/dpa)

Premiers Plenković and Nehammer know Söder’s situation. For a long time, Austria and Croatia also imported most of their gas needs from Russia. When Plenković came into office six years ago, he stuck to the plan to build an LNG terminal off the island of Krk, primarily for Croatia’s self-sufficiency. Political competitors accused him of wasting taxes, and environmental groups protested. But a good year after the terminal opened, in January 2021, the war against Ukraine began – and Plenković suddenly stood there like a clairvoyant. Now he wants even more. He wants to turn his country into an international “energy hub,” as he said in Krk on Thursday.

These plans also include pipelines to Bavaria, for example around Vienna via Lower Austria, where the pipeline could be extended to carry the gas further into the Free State. For this, Croatia would like to buy a second ship that could bring additional liquid gas to Krk from the USA, from the Gulf, from Africa. In Krk, this gas would be restored to its original state and fed into the grid. The existing terminal in Krk will soon hold 6.1 billion cubic meters per year. Plenković concedes that it is “a bite” compared to Austria’s and Bavaria’s gas needs. For classification: According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the average Bavarian demand was around 11.2 billion cubic meters per year. However, the scenario that Söder draws here in Krk still has a catch.

Years would probably pass before a gas pipeline was laid from Croatia to Bavaria and went into operation. “Three to five years,” says Nehammer when asked, but no one wants to commit specifically to periods and costs. “We no longer need anything that will not be in operation by 2030,” is how Martin Stümpfig, spokesman for energy and climate protection for the Greens in the state parliament, comments soberly on the Croatia plans. For him, LNG is an emergency solution for “the next few years, after that we have to get out of the bridging gas technology”. Stümpfig said on the phone about the Prime Minister’s trip to Croatia: “Mr. Söder wouldn’t have to travel that far. He could simply do more in the country so that we can make progress with renewable energies.”

The Prime Minister, on the other hand, sees Bavaria on the right track. And anyway, the Croatia plans are about “the motto: one line, two forms: gas and hydrogen”. That means: In the long term, no LNG gas should flow in pipelines from Croatia to Bavaria, but green hydrogen. Söder also says that the main thing is “an option for the future”, for climate protection, for more independence. The prime minister sees a growing energy demand in Bavaria, regardless of the crisis. He would like to position the Free State “broadly”, one thing is certain, “Bavaria is very hungry for energy”.

Green politician Stümpfig cannot understand why the hungry Söder is therefore oriented to the south. Germany is now “well covered” with LNG gas, and there are existing pipelines that could be converted to hydrogen, “the concern that Bavaria is missing out somewhere is completely unfounded.” In fact, there is, for example, the LNG terminal in Lubmin, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, from where a gas pipeline leads to Bavaria via the Czech Republic. Söder was also in Lubmin recently, but he doesn’t want to rely on the south after all.

His trip to Croatia does not end with a deal, but with a declaration of intent. In it, Croatia, Austria and Bavaria agree to coordinate the expansion of the pipeline infrastructure with the European Union, energy suppliers and network operating companies. A joint “steering group” should also determine the effort and costs for the project. It’s “not about this winter,” says Söder. But about “a long-term energy perspective”.

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