Habeck actually wanted to burden companies and gas customers with a surcharge and thus save the energy supplier Uniper. However, technical errors and an escalation of the energy supply call the project into question.

The gas levy, as announced just a month ago by Green Economics Minister Robert Habeck, is a thing of the past even before it comes into force on October 1st. It may not come at all, or it may come into force in a significantly modified version. The current discussion about this makes it clear that the federal government apparently lacks a plan on how to get the impending energy crisis under control in winter

Originally, Habeck had planned that the levy of around 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour would be calculated for all gas customers from October. This should compensate for the extra costs of gas importers, who have to buy much more expensive gas than they had planned due to the failure of Russian supplies. However, they cannot easily pass on the higher costs to customers due to long-term contracts, which is why they are slipping deep into the red.

The main victim of the situation is Uniper, one of the largest gas suppliers in Germany, which reported a loss of 12.4 billion euros in its half-yearly balance sheet. The gas levy was primarily intended to absorb Uniper, because without this supplier, gas supplies to companies and households in Germany are in danger of collapsing.

However, two hurdles arose after Habeck launched the gas levy in August.

Against this background, Habeck must now hectically improve. In turn, two paths are emerging that could ultimately be decided by the government and are currently being coordinated between the ministries and parties. On the one hand, there is a further reform of the Energy Security Act. It is regulated to restrict the circle of beneficiaries of the levy among gas importers. A market share of at least one percent should apply as a prerequisite. Companies that make profits should also be excluded. Recipients of the surcharge would also have to accept restrictions on manager remuneration. In essence, only Uniper, the EnBW subsidiary VNG and the Gazprom subsidiaries, which are under German trust, would then benefit.

But it could also, and this is the second way, lead to a further nationalization of Uniper. So far, the federal government had put together a rescue package worth 19 billion euros, which also included a state entry into the Düsseldorf group. 30 percent of the shares went to the state. In view of the dramatic situation, the state as a minority shareholder could now become a majority shareholder who holds more than 50 percent of the shares and thus has the say in the group.

A gas surcharge might then no longer be necessary, because the state has deep pockets and could theoretically compensate for Uniper’s losses indefinitely. In practice, however, he spends taxpayers’ money on it, which is then missing elsewhere. Nevertheless, Habeck could score, because gas customers would be grateful for the relief a few weeks before the state elections in Lower Saxony – and not only they, but all taxpayers would have to raise the double-digit billion amount to save Uniper.

However, nationalization would create a new problem for Habeck: Uniper has so far been majority owned by the Finnish state-owned company Fortum. He holds 56 percent of Uniper’s share capital. And Finland will not accept the nationalization of the German energy company Uniper without compensation, emphasized Minister for European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen last week.

The Finnish company bought Uniper in 2017 for around seven billion euros. Uniper is currently valued at around 1.6 billion euros. The company’s shares have lost 90 percent of their value since the beginning of the year. The interest of Fortum and the Finnish state is to recover at least the EUR 8 billion in loans and guarantees that they had given Uniper in addition earlier this year. If there is no compensation from the German state, there is a risk of a chain reaction and Fortum could also get into trouble. For Habeck, this means that if he relies on the nationalization of Uniper and thus replaces the Finnish state-owned company as owner, not only will this process cost him money, but he will also have to spend several billion euros elsewhere.

A spokeswoman for the Habeck Ministry only said that she did not want to take part in speculation about the gas levy. But it doesn’t look like a working plan. “Bobbles are botches,” said the CDU parliamentary group leader Jens Spahn last week.

The article “Is there a gas levy or not? What’s behind the Habeck confusion” comes from WirtschaftsKurier.