Robert Habeck has a problem with the gas surcharge

Why should consumers support companies that are making a profit? Not only is the head of green consumer protection asking herself that. The Social Democratic Party also has doubts.

Uniper gas power plant in Gebersdorf.DBA / Nicholas Fekir

Criticism of the gas tax set by the green-led Ministry of Economic Affairs – even in its political camp – is growing. On Wednesday, the new president of the Federal Consumer Association and former Green Senator for Economic Affairs in Berlin, Ramona Pope, spoke out against the previously planned practice.

“It’s certainly true to bail out companies that are in trouble,” Bob said on Wednesday. “But it can’t be that people who don’t already know how to pay their gas bills are helping companies secure their profits.”

For days there has been a debate about how fair the gas tax is and which companies receive subsidies from the gas tax. It is due from October and must be paid by gas customers in addition to the price of gas: 2.4 cents per kilowatt-hour consumed. This is intended to support gas importers who have to switch from cheap Russian gas prices to higher import prices but cannot pass them on to customers right away due to contract terms. Otherwise, a collapse is expected in the German energy market – according to the statement of the Minister of Economy Robert Habeck (Greenz).

At the beginning of the week, it became known the names of companies that will be subsidized with additional gas fees – and it turned out that there are also companies whose profits have increased by billions, such as the Austrian energy group OMV. It remains unclear exactly how the additional gas cost will be distributed. On Wednesday, Bob demanded that it is necessary to verify exactly who is supported. She noted that according to the regulation, gas surcharges may only be used to avoid bankruptcy. “But that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore,” Bob says.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Economy justified this at a government press conference on Monday by saying that the company needs a certain profit margin in order to be able to continue operating. The spokeswoman explained that different conditions must apply in order to receive the additional gas fee: “In fact, imminent insolvency is not among them.”

The head of consumer protection also acknowledges this. “Of course, consumers don’t have to pay to delay bankruptcy,” Ramona Pope said. However, it is not their job to secure the profits of the energy companies in return for additional consideration. When asked by the Berliner Zeitung newspaper why customers use only gas to support energy companies in Germany, Bob said: “We ask ourselves that too.”

Meanwhile, there is also some grumbling in the SPD. Bundestag members Michael Mersch, Nina Scheer and Andreas Rimkus contacted Habek a few days ago. In their letter, available to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, they referred “Dear Robert” to the Energy Security Act. It states that “price adjustments can only be made if the possible measures in accordance with paragraphs 29 and 26 have been verified and the test results are documented.” In plain language: first of all, the state has to figure out who needs support in all.

“Unconstitutional”: The Christian Democratic Union announces the fight against gas surcharges

The union, in turn, announced, on Wednesday, its desire to reduce gas tariffs in the Bundestag. This is “the wrong way,” explains Thomas Hellmann, a Christian Democratic Union member in Berlin. It is also “unconstitutional and against European law” and there will be many lawsuits against it.

Hellmann also criticized the announced reduction of the value-added tax on natural gas from 19 percent to 7 percent in the near future. This has an ‘unfair distribution effect’. Hellmann suggested supporting companies according to the model used by Lufthansa in the Corona crisis. When the airline’s planes lay idle for months, the state stepped in with a deposit, secured loans, and a direct stake in the company.

The government has already done so with the energy companies Uniper and Gazprom Germania. The state has acquired 30 percent of Uniper, and Gazprom Germania is under the management of the Federal Network Agency. It is now said that these two companies, which mainly import Russian gas, benefit more from the gas tax. According to various media reports, 90 percent of the order was registered by these two companies. However, how the additional gas surcharges will actually be distributed has not been determined. It is calculated by Trading Hub Europe (THE), the joint venture of transport system operators.

From there it was said on Wednesday that the amount of the tax could change this winter – depending on how secure Germany’s gas supplies are.

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