At more than 125 years old, the German-Belgian Chamber of Commerce is the oldest German Chamber of Commerce abroad in the world. According to Martin Kotthaus, Ambassador for Bilateral Affairs in Belgium, this is “a good indicator of the always great importance of German-Belgian trade relations“. Given the dangers Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has posed to security and energy supplies, the diplomat underscores the joint approach of Brussels and Berlin to address these challenges.
Belgium now plays a key role as a transit country for energy supplies from all over the world. “Supplies from Belgium have played a significant role in enabling Germany to become independent of Russian gas so quickly. As a transit country, Belgium is currently Germany’s second-largest gas supplier after Norway,” says Kotthaus.
LNG compounds with a hydrogen future
A large part of Germany’s gas demand is now met by supplies from the LNG terminal in Zeebrugge. “Belgium, but also the Netherlands, have strong ambitions to position themselves as energy centers as well as energy hubs in Northern Europe,” Kotthaus says, noting that the Belgian government under Prime Minister Alexander De Croo published a revised hydrogen strategy on Oct. 18. “In it, it is clear that Belgium wants to strengthen its position as a major energy hub in Europe and is determined to invest accordingly.”
Belgium is in the process of developing international partnerships in the field of green hydrogen, he said: “The country is cooperating with Oman and Namibia, among others, but is also looking at Chile and Egypt.” In addition, the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge have decided to join forces for the future in 2021, which may offer opportunities for Germany. The port of Antwerp is home to the world’s second-largest chemical cluster after Houston, Texas, he said. Many of the major German chemical companies have important branches there. “Naturally, therefore, in addition to the gas pipelines, there are also numerous cross-border pipeline infrastructures that are to be further expanded,” Kotthaus said.
The connection between Germany and Belgium is also being strengthened in the field of electricity. With the inauguration of the Aachen Liège Electricity Grid Overlay (ALEGrO) at the end of 2020, an approximately 90-kilometer underground line built by German grid operator Amprion and Belgian grid operator Elia went into operation, running from the German town of Oberzier to Lixhe near the Belgian-Dutch border.
Closer relations through the energy crisis
“As Ambassador, it is a great pleasure to work on further deepening the already close relations between Germany and Belgium. I assume that these will become even more intensive as a result of the energy transition, particularly in the areas of wind energy and hydrogen,” says Kotthaus.
The 60-year-old diplomat has been used to an international life since his childhood. As a civil engineer, his father implemented projects abroad in the 1960s and 1970s, “during the great era of the German construction industry.” As a child, Kotthaus lived with his family in Ghana, Egypt, Turkey, Brazil and Nigeria. Born in Burscheid, in the Rheinisch-Bergisch district, the lawyer and father of two daughters has held various diplomatic posts since the 1990s, including permanent representative at the embassy in Angola, press spokesman at the embassy in Washington and press spokesman at the Permanent Representation to the EU. He has served as Ambassador to Belgium since 2018.
“We are Belgium’s number one trading partner and the Belgians are our number nine trading partner. This is an impressive figure – especially in relation to the size of the country and its 11.6 million inhabitants,” says Martin Kotthaus. Isabel Cuesta