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German govt to relook huge gas levy amid outrage

BERLIN (AFP) – German ministers vowed to re-examine a planned gas surcharge imposed on consumers after it emerged that some energy companies seeking a share of the levy were in fact posting billion-euro earnings.

The surcharge was designed to get consumers to bear some of the soaring costs that gas importers have found themselves saddled with as energy prices shoot up because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Moscow’s subsequent squeeze on gas exports to Germany.

The levy, to be imposed from October 1, had been grudgingly accepted as a compromise to help prevent the energy market from collapsing.

But it has sparked outrage after it emerged that the 12 companies that have registered to receive a share of the levy include energy traders like Axpo or Gunvor – both of which have recorded doubling revenues in the first half of the year.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck acknowledged that the surcharge is not destined for companies that are at risk of bankruptcy.

But “it is definitely not moral for companies that have made a pile of money to also say: yes and for the bit of revenue losses, we are asking the people for help, they should also give us some money”, he said at an enterprise forum in remarks reported by regional broadcaster WDR.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck at the chancellery in Berlin. PHOTO: AP

“We have a political problem of course, that has soured my day quite a bit over the last 48 hours,” he said.

Habeck noted that highly profitable companies “perhaps have a legally justified claim but we will now take a closer look to see if there is a way of fending off this justified claim”.

Separately, Finance Minister Christian Lindner also told broadcaster ZDF that “a solidarity measure cannot serve to allow individual companies to boost their returns and make profits on them”.

“If it is necessary to make this instrument more targeted to benefit consumers, then we will not shy away from making these corrections,” he said.

The charge, set at EUR0.02419 cents per kilowatt hour, works out to EUR483.80.

(USD493.70) for a family of four with an annual average energy usage of 20,000kwh.

The Kiel Institute for the World Economy estimates that the surcharge will send Germany’s already soaring inflation rate up by another 0.9 percentage points.

To help consumers cope, Germany would temporarily slash the sales tax on gas to seven per cent from 19 per cent, Chancellor Olaf Scholz had said on Thursday.