Summer is when many Germans fall under the spell of what Swedes jokingly call “Bullerby Syndrome”, and this week Olaf Scholz should have been the next victim.
Derived from Astrid Lindgren’s childrens’ books about idyllic country life in Sweden, Bullerby Syndrome takes hold when German visitors idealise Sweden and its Nordic neighbours as a sunny place of red wooden houses, happy blonde children and midsummer celebrations.
And the chancellor, a proud Hanseat who is happiest while gazing out at the Baltic Sea, is getting a double dose this week, starting on Monday in Norway.
But with an uncertain autumn looming, neither Scholz nor the Icelandic, Finnish, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian leaders gathered in Oslo on Monday for their Nordic council meeting felt like idealising the outlook.
Six months after Russia invaded Ukraine, changing Europe’s security landscape forever, all leaders have millions of voters unsure whether they can afford their winter bills.
“It will be pricey, there’s no beating around the bush,” said Scholz in Oslo, hours after higher gas prices were unveiled in Berlin. “We will leave no one alone with the extra costs.”
At a joint press conference in Oslo, leaders restated their support for Ukraine.
Strong and united
“We must continue our support of Ukraine, we have to be strong and we have to be united,” said Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister.
But Scholz was quick to oppose a joint proposal by Marin and Estonian leader Kaja Kallas to impose an EU visa ban on all Russian citizens.
The German leader warned of taking steps which, though popular, might make life more difficult for dissidents and others anxious to get away from “the dictatorship in Russia”.
“What is important for us is that we understand there are a lot of people fleeing from Russia because they disagree with the Russian regime,” he said.
As well as energy security, the main focus of Monday’s meeting was further development of security co-operation in the Baltic Sea region as Finland and Sweden prepare to join their Nordic neighbours in Nato
Praising their decision as “historic”, Norwegian prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre said all European countries were facing a “struggle with increased energy prices”.
Norway, with its considerable undersea gas reserves, is in a more comfortable position than most.
Official figures on Monday showed that a surge in Norwegian gas exports saw exports reach a record high in July.
Alternative to Russia
Exports reached 229 billion kroner (€23.2 billion) last month, 0.4 per cent higher than a previous record in March, resulting in a record high trade surplus of 153.2 billion kroner (€15.5 billion).
Seeking an alternative to Russian gas, many European countries have scrambled to buy Norwegian gas.
Speaking in Oslo, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen acknowledged as much, saying Europe “must phase out Russian gas as soon as possible”.
“Europe is facing a challenging autumn,” she added to nods from her fellow leaders.
Since the February invasion, the EU has backed bans on Russian coal and most oil, taking effect later this year, but has excluded Russian natural gas given the dependency of many member states.
Germany’s dependency is particularly acute, given about one-third of its gas imports come from Russia. In February, Berlin mothballed a new undersea pipeline while, last month, a parallel pipeline was throttled back by Russia to just 20 per cent capacity.
After the Nordic meeting, Scholz took a bilateral boat trip with his Norwegian host on Monday evening, with talk likely to focus on boosting gas deliveries still further.
Norway already supplies for 30 per cent of German gas imports, just behind Russia.
From January to April of this year, Norway exported almost 15 billion cubic metres of natural gas to Germany, nearly twice as much as in the same period last year. Oslo is seeking ways to expand its deliveries still further in the coming months, given three of Norway’s seven export pipelines lead to Germany and one to neighbouring Poland.
After his sobering trip to Norway, there is still a chance Scholz will fall for Bullerby Syndrome on Tuesday. From Oslo, he travels to Stockholm to meet Magdalena Andersson, the Swedish prime minister. His fellow Social Democratic leader and former finance minister is facing re-election in the autumn.