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ENERGY

Germany to push ahead with gas levy plans

The German government will continue with a plan to charge consumers a gas surcharge despite the move to nationalise energy company Uniper, it emerged on Wednesday.

German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks in Berlin.
German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck speaks in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

German Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck said the controversial levy, which will see ordinary people bear some of the soaring costs that gas importers are dealing with as energy prices rise, will still be brought in – even though energy company Uniper is being put under state control.  

The levy is set to be imposed from October 1st and is aimed at propping up the German energy market. 

During a press conference in Berlin, Habeck, of the Greens, said the levy will be introduced as planned and is needed as a bridge to ensure Uniper’s financial solidity. 

The Economy Ministry announced earlier in the day that the troubled gas giant was being nationalised in a deal that will leave Germany with a 98.5 percent stake in the company.

Habeck said the planned takeover of the group would take at least three months. He pointed out that after this point, when Uniper becomes a state-owned company, Germany would have to consider whether the gas surcharge would still be in line with the constitution.

All gas customers will have to pay an additional 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour from October, which means an extra burden of several hundred euros per household. Under initial plans, the surcharge is set to be in place until April 1st 2024. At the same time, there will be a VAT cut on gas consumption to seven percent, down from the usual 19 percent. 

Habeck said a fiscal constitutional review to assess the situation would be undertaken by the Finance Ministry. If the levy cannot be imposed after Uniper becomes state-owned, there will have to be an alternative, he said.

“As we have shown, the state will do everything necessary to keep companies stable on the market at all times,” Habeck said, adding that this applied to Uniper but also to other systemically important gas importers.

As The Local reported, a draft document recently showed that the government is planning to delay payments on the surcharge due from customers.

READ ALSO: Payments for Germany’s gas levy ‘not due until end of October’

The advance payments for October and November should “not be due before October 31st, 2022”, said the draft plans from the Federal Ministry of Economics dated Monday September 12th. 

There has been a lot of controversy over the surcharge after it emerged that some companies registered to receive a share included firms that have not been struggling in the current situation. 

Habeck admitted mistakes in the design of the levy and pledged to amend. Under new proposals, firms that have made profit will be excluded and there will likely be restrictions on the salaries that managers receive if the company is benefiting from the surcharge. 

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POLITICS

Civil servants ‘getting burnout’ over energy crisis, says German minister

Public sector workers trying to tackle Germany's ongoing energy crisis are suffering from illness and burnout, Economics Minister Robert Habeck has said.

Civil servants 'getting burnout' over energy crisis, says German minister

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has unleashed economic turmoil in Europe, placing Germany’s new coalition government under pressure to firefight multiple crises.

Perhaps the largest of these is the energy crisis, which has prompted fears of gas shortages in the winter months and seen prices for fossil fuels soar for both households and businesses.

According to Economics and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, the staff at his ministry – who are charged with tackling the energy crisis – are struggling to cope with the extraordinary pressure that they have been under in recent months. 

“People, at some point they have to sleep and eat too,” the Green politician said at a congress of the Federation of German Industries (BDI) in Berlin. “It’s not bullshit I’m talking now: people get sick. They have burnout, they get tinnitus. They can’t take it anymore.”

READ ALSO:

In the last nine months alone, the Economics Ministry has produced 20 laws and 28 ordinances, Habeck revealed. He said this was likely more than the ministry produced over the entirety of the previous four-year legislature. 

Highlighting the strain that his staff were under, Habeck explained that it was always the same people in charge in drafting new laws in the battle to secure the energy supply.

To say that the Tourism Ministry could help restructure the electricity market would be like “telling the artist who made the sculptures that he can be the president of the Federation of German Industries,” the Green politician added. 

Batting off criticism that the ministry had occasionally been slow to act, Habeck said: “Of course you could say, ‘why didn’t you do the regulation a week earlier’. But it’s not because people are sleeping, it’s because there is a limit to their physical capacity.”

Gas levy criticism 

Germany has had to cope with an ever intensifying energy emergency over the past few months, culminating in Russia reducing supplies and then turning off gas deliveries via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline entirely in September. 

Most recently, the government took steps to nationalise its largest gas supplier – Uniper – in a move to prevent the collapse of the country’s energy infrastructure. Uniper has suffered losses of billions of euros this year due to the costs involved in replacing cheap Russian gas supplies at short notice. 

Habeck, who has appeared increasingly world-weary and exhausted in recent months, has faced sharp criticism for a number of decisions made during the crisis. 

Most controversially, his decision to implement a gas levy to bail out major energy companies has been met with consternation from both the opposition and the Greens’ coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD). 

On Friday, SPD leader Lars Klingbeil reiterated concerns about the fairness of the gas levy at a time when many are struggling to pay their energy bills.

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil speaks to the press during the ARD Summer Interview in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

In a situation where the government is facing multiple decisions in a short space of time, ministers also require the strength to “reconsider and correct their path”, Klingbeil told RND.

“(The gas levy) is about supporting the gas supply infrastructure,” he added. “However, this must be done fairly.”

In spite of the nationalisation of Uniper, Habeck has confirmed that the gas levy – which adds 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour of energy onto gas bills – will still be introduced on October 1st.

However, on Thursday he announced that there would be changes to Energy Security Act to ensure that only companies who needed the bailout would benefit from the levy.

According to the ministry, the changes are set to be passed by the cabinet on September 28th.

READ ALSO: Germany to push ahead with gas levy plans

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