Another argument: The traffic light coalition is openly arguing about the future of the gas surcharge. After it became known on Tuesday that Robert Habeck (Greens) in the Ministry of Economic Affairs had doubts about the levy, the energy policy spokesman for the coalition partner FDP, Michael Kruse, now sharply attacked the minister.
"The public speculation of the Federal Minister of Economics helps nobody," he told WELT. "If Robert Habeck has constitutional doubts about the levy he himself introduced eight weeks after the decision, then that doesn't reflect well on the work of his ministry."
According to Kruse, there is only one alternative to the gas levy: "unchecked passing on of the gas price shock to consumers and companies". The gas importers, who had bought large quantities of Russian gas that is now not being delivered, would then have to pass on the additional costs exclusively to their customers.
"The distortions that would result would be dramatic," said Kruse. "I therefore strongly advise Robert Habeck not to stir up further uncertainty through public speculation about the levy." The Federal Minister of Economics is responsible for "keeping the effects of the Russian attack on the German population and the German economy as low as possible," said the FDP MPs. "Wanting to march in a different direction every day doesn't help."
For days, the future of the gas levy has been puzzling in Berlin. Actually, a week ago, Habeck's ministry was supposed to send a draft for an amended ordinance to the other ministries for approval.
This should rule out the possibility of companies benefiting from the gas surcharge that they don't even need because they continue to make profits. But as of Tuesday, there was still no such draft.
Officially, the Ministry of Economic Affairs continues to adhere to a changed gas levy. "As announced, we are currently making adjustments and reducing the group of companies eligible to apply so that free riders are not included," said a spokeswoman.
In addition, questions about state aid would be clarified, one is "on the right track" and will present the changes shortly. "Of course, you also have to keep an eye on how the emerging need for stabilization of systemically important companies is affecting the gas market, what questions it raises and what answers are needed," she said.
The last part of the answer already indicates that the Federal Ministry of Economics sees a connection between possible further state aid for gas importers and the gas surcharge. There are essentially three companies that need help because of the increased costs for the replacement procurement of gas: Uniper, VNG and Securing Energy for Europe (SEFE) – the latter name is now used by the former Gazprom subsidiary Gazprom Germania.
Despite gas deliveries from Russia being stopped at the end of August, German gas storage facilities are now more than 90 percent full. In addition, gas customers can possibly breathe a sigh of relief because the gas levy could be eliminated.
Government circles say that state participation or even a complete nationalization of these companies is currently being negotiated. At Uniper, complete nationalization is imminent and will probably be announced as early as Wednesday, according to media reports.
A rescue package had originally been decided for Uniper, which included a state participation of 30 percent, but this plan is already outdated. This is because gas prices continued to rise over the summer and Uniper now needs significantly more money than assumed in the rescue package.
According to WELT information, the Ministry of Economic Affairs now has “constitutional financial doubts” that a gas levy can be levied that will benefit companies that are at least partially nationalized. Habeck's ministry has commissioned an expert opinion that comes to the conclusion that the levy could possibly become a so-called special levy, for which there are narrow constitutional limits.
Habeck is trying to pass the buck on the gas levy to Christian Lindner's (FDP) Ministry of Finance, which is now to decide whether the levy can be implemented in accordance with the constitution. This is another reason why the reaction of the liberals to the rumors from the Ministry of Economic Affairs is likely to be so drastic.
In the end, it's actually a question of whether the debt brake will continue to be suspended in order to stabilize the gas and energy markets. According to reports, a total volume of 60 to 100 billion euros is involved, which would be needed to save the systemically important gas companies.
This cannot be financed from the budget alone if the debt brake is adhered to. So far, the gas surcharge of 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour plus VAT is expected to bring in around 34 billion euros. Whether that's enough, however, is completely open. If gas prices remain high or even rise further, the gas surcharge could become even more expensive for consumers.
So far, the federal government has argued that the gas surcharge had to be introduced primarily under pressure from the rating agencies. They would have argued that there would be no viable business model in the long term if tax funds had to be injected again and again.
However, it is said from circles in the Ministry of Economics that these concerns of the rating agencies would no longer apply if the debt brake were suspended, then it would be ensured that the state could inject more money if necessary. According to WELT information, the Ministry of Economics assumes that it is “increasingly clear that the unstable situation needs the power and the guarantee of the state as well as all the financial strength of the state that is necessary”.
But the FDP and its finance minister would first have to agree to a further suspension of the debt brake. Habeck's people also consider it unlikely that the gas surcharge will not be introduced in the first place. The gas surcharge is necessary as a bridge, but it must be discussed whether, in view of the current situation, it should not be replaced by other instruments, such as state financing instruments.
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