So now the tank discount applies. Apparently, the prices at the pump are actually falling, but not everywhere and not always as significantly as the federal government had calculated. No wonder. Because the Cartel Office has shown where the gross design flaw lies.

It was not as bad as Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck announced a week ago: that prices would initially rise from this Wednesday because motorists stormed the gas stations in the face of falling fuel prices. But it hasn’t turned out as well as the federal government had predicted: that the reduction in energy tax by 30 cents per liter, including the corresponding reduction in VAT, will cost motorists 35.2 cents for a liter of petrol and 16.7 cents for a liter of diesel would relieve.

Drivers could refuel more cheaply today, but not to the extent that was to be expected from calculations. And the price cuts varied from place to place. According to the comparison portal “benzinpreis-aktuell.de”, the gas stations on Wednesday at 7:00 a.m. demanded a national average of 1.92 euros for a liter of E 10 and 1.99 euros for a liter of diesel. Yesterday, at the same time – at 7:00 a.m. fuel is always particularly expensive – 2.20 euros were still being charged for E10 and 2.15 euros for diesel.

So the fuel price brake is taking effect, but not nearly as much as planned and promised by the traffic lights. In addition, in anticipation of the tax cut, the mineral oil industry had raised prices again significantly. In any case, the corporations had not thought of passing on the 30 percent reduction in energy taxes to consumers. They prefer to direct part of it into their own pockets.

The relief promised by the traffic light for motorists, especially commuters who are heavily burdened, falls into the category “well intentioned, badly done”. Because there is a serious design flaw behind the concept: the fuel companies are not legally obliged to pay the tax cut one to pass on. Andreas Mundt, head of the cartel office, has now pointed this out. Only among our rulers nobody seems to have known that.

Quite apart from that, this relief for drivers is a pretty one-sided thing. The greater the fuel consumption, the higher the savings when refueling. Seen in this light, the many long-distance commuters with smaller, less fuel-guzzling vehicles are the stupid ones.

The fact that tax cuts do not necessarily end up entirely with the consumer was something that motorists had to learn from the temporary reduction in VAT in the first year of Corona. Fuel prices fell less than would have been mathematically necessary. The mineral oil companies kept a third of the savings intended for consumers for themselves.

In a free market economy, it is quite normal for companies to set their own prices without government influence. But they always have to pay attention to how their competitors are behaving. If a provider is too expensive, customers will go to the competition. If competition works, no company can afford not to lower the price of a tax cut if others are doing so. Otherwise the customers will run away from him.

Now it’s no secret that there can hardly be any real competition between gas stations. Every motorist can see for themselves how the prices at neighboring gas stations rise or fall more or less in unison, several times a day. They increase during rush hour, decrease around midday, and increase especially before weekends. The head of the cartel office, Andreas Mundt, downplays the issue of a “restricted intensity of competition in the fuel market.” They prefer to collect the drivers together.

All this is not new. The Cartel Office repeatedly asserts that it always follows price developments closely in order to punish and prevent illegal price fixing with fines. However, the competition watchdogs have rarely been able to prove that prices are being manipulated in an abusive manner. After all, the cartel office’s announcements that it is taking a very close look at the reduction in energy taxes seem to have prompted the oil multinationals to take some of the tax relief into account in their prices. It remains completely open to what extent prices will rise again in the near future.

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It was therefore negligent that the traffic light invested an estimated more than 3 billion euros in a temporary “fuel price brake” that increased the profits of the oil multinationals. Especially since Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) and Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) should have known from their experiences with the temporary VAT 2020: nothing is further from the mineral oil companies than to take tax cuts into account one hundred percent in their pricing policy.

So let’s be clear: the mineral oil companies passed on some of the tax cuts, not least under public pressure. Nevertheless, the government has promised motorists more than it can deliver. To put it in the words of the economist Clemens Fuest, who otherwise formulates rather carefully: This fuel price brake is “all in all great nonsense.”