Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger has called for schools to be classed as ‘critical infrastructure’ by winter

Schools and other educational facilities in Germany should be classed as critical infrastructure to prevent their closure this winter due to possible gas shortages, the country’s education minister has argued.

Speaking to Germany’s Rheinische Post newspaper on Thursday, Bettina Stark-Watzinger said it should be a priority for Olaf Scholz’s government to make sure that schools and universities remain open even if the country ends up running low on gas this coming winter.

I campaigned during the [Covid-19] pandemic already for educational facilities to be designated as critical infrastructure,” the minister explained.

Now that Russia has considerably reduced supplies via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline, and with talk of a complete stoppage in the future, “close attention” has to be paid to schools and universities in Germany, “so that it does not possibly come to class cutbacks or even cancellation” in winter, Stark-Watzinger warned.

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According to the official, educational institutions will, however, have to become thriftier in how they use energy, and re-evaluations are already underway in many schools and universities.

Echoing the minister’s assessment, the head of Germany’s education and science workers’ union, Maike Finnern, noted that a lot of schools in the country are already energy-efficient.

However, Finnern also acknowledged that there is still room for improvement, especially in relation to older, “ailing” schools which are not adequately insulated.

The union representative hailed the fact that the German government had included schools, along with private households, in the ‘protected customers’ category of its gas emergency plan.

This designation means that these areas will be prioritized in terms of gas supplies if there is a shortage.

Gas shipments to Europe by Russia’s Gazprom via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline dropped to about 40% of capacity last month. Moscow claimed it was the direct result of Western sanctions, which prevented some key equipment from being returned to Russia.

To make matters worse, the pipeline is going to shut down completely for 10 days in mid-July for scheduled maintenance.

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