Germany reaches deal to nationalise troubled gas giant Uniper

Germany has reached a deal to nationalise troubled gas giant Uniper, the government said Wednesday, as the energy sector reels from the fallout of Russia's war in Ukraine.

A gas stove in Germany.
A gas stove in Germany. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Malte Christians

Berlin and Uniper’s Finnish owner, Fortum, announced a deal that will leave Germany with a 98.5 percent stake in the debt-laden gas company.

“Uniper is a central pillar of German energy supplies,” the economy ministry said in a statement.

Under the agreement, Berlin will inject eight billion euros in cash in Uniper and buy Fortum’s shares for 500 million euros.

Fortum will also be repaid for an eight-billion-euro loan it gave Uniper.

“Under the current circumstances in the European energy markets and recognising the severity of Uniper’s situation, the divestment of Uniper is the right step to take, not only for Uniper but also for Fortum,” said Fortum chief executive Markus Rauramo.

“The role of gas in Europe has fundamentally changed since Russia attacked Ukraine, and so has the outlook for a gas-heavy portfolio. As a result, the business case for an integrated group is no longer viable,” Rauramo said in a statement.

One of the biggest importers of Russian gas, Uniper has been squeezed as Moscow has reduced supplies to the continent in the wake of its invasion of Ukraine in February.

Missing deliveries have had to be replaced with expensive supplies from the open market, where prices for gas have skyrocketed.

Fortum said Uniper has accumulated close to 8.5 billion euros in gas-related losses “and cannot continue to fulfil its role as a critical provider of security of supply as a privately-owned company”.

Germany’s Russian gas dependence

The German state had already agreed in July to take a 30 percent stake in Uniper as part of an initial bailout agreement.

But Uniper announced earlier this month that the two sides were exploring a possible nationalisation as the energy crisis showed no signs of abating.

Fortum provided an eight-billion-euro loan to Uniper in January as the price of gas had already begun to climb amid tensions with Moscow before the
invasion of Ukraine.

The Finnish company held a near-80-percent stake in Uniper, which would have been cut to around 56 percent under the July bailout plan.

Earlier in September, the German government entered into discussions with another gas supplier, VNG, over a possible bailout package.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has triggered an earthquake on European energy markets, cranked up the pressure on suppliers and raised fears of possible shortages over the winter.

Germany has found itself particularly exposed due to its previous heavy reliance on Russian energy imports.

Since the outbreak of the war, Berlin has worked to wean itself off Russian gas and secure alternative supplies.

Officials have seized key pieces of energy infrastructure which were in the hands of Russian energy companies and mandated gas stores to be filled.

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Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

Germany said Monday it was investigating an unexplained pressure drop in the inactive Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia, which was blocked by Berlin in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

Germany and Denmark investigate Russian pipeline pressure drop

The operator said it was “relatively likely that there’s a leak” in the underwater pipeline, which runs beneath the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany.

Authorities had spotted a “large bubble field near Bornholm”, a Danish island in the Baltic, Nord Stream 2 spokesman Ulrich Lissek told AFP.

“The pipeline was never in use, just prepared for technical operation, and therefore filled with gas,” he said.

There was, however, “no clarity” over the cause of the pressure drop in the underwater link, or whether the issue was related to a section of the pipe in “German sovereign waters”, a spokeswoman for the German economy ministry said.

Officials were working to “clarify the situation,” the spokeswoman said, adding that Danish authorities had been alerted to the issue.

The pipeline, which runs parallel to Nord Stream 1 and was intended to roughly double the capacity for undersea gas imports from Russia, was blocked by Berlin in the days before the invasion of Ukraine. Germany, which was highly dependent on imports of fossil fuels from Russia to meet its energy needs, has since come under acute stress as Moscow has dwindled supplies.

Russian energy giant Gazprom progressively reduced the volumes of gas being delivered via the Nord Stream 1 until it shut the pipeline completely at the end of August, blaming Western sanctions for the delay of necessary repairs to the pipeline.

READ ALSO: Germany’s gas storage facilities ‘over 90 percent full’

Germany has rebuffed Gazprom’s technical explanation for the cut, instead accusing Moscow of wielding energy as a weapon amid tensions over the Ukraine war.

Kremlin representatives have previously suggested that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline should be allowed to go into operation.

It was “technically possible” to continue deliveries, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in August.

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who signed off on the first Nord Stream pipeline in his final days in office, has also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the blocked second link.