Uniper natural gas storage facility in Bierwang
Photo: LENNART PRICE / AFP
The federal government worked at full speed over the weekend.
Because the largest German gas supplier, the energy group Uniper, is threatened with insolvency.
A legal basis is to be created quickly with which gas importers such as the Düsseldorf-based company can be rescued in the face of an impending Russian embargo.
Late on Sunday evening, the heads of the responsible ministries for economics, finance and the Federal Chancellery apparently agreed on a draft that is said to have already been agreed with the factions of the traffic light coalition.
It regulates financial aid up to and including a state entry in order to be able to avert the bankruptcy of a gas supplier.
The draft law, which SPIEGEL has seen, provides for "corporate measures" with which "the issue of new shares in return for contributions from dormant partnerships entered into by the federal government or to raise funds for the purpose of returning such contributions" should be made possible.
This means that the state can grant loans or guarantees for an affected energy company - or appear as a shareholder itself.
The decision should be made quickly by circular procedure
This creates a legal regulation that is very similar to that of the corona pandemic.
With the economic stabilization fund, the federal government had supported companies like Lufthansa from financial collapse.
After the Lex Lufthansa, there is obviously now a Lex Uniper.
The corresponding regulation should ideally be approved by the Federal Cabinet by Tuesday of this week in a circular procedure.
Then the Bundestag could decide on the work this week, the last week of meetings before the summer holidays.
According to SPIEGEL information, the departmental coordination is currently taking place, the final details are still being clarified.
If the agreement is not reached until the middle of the week, then there will no longer be any possibility of the paragraph "Facilitating the implementation of stabilization measures" coming into force during a regular Bundestag session.
The plan is to adopt this article, which actually supplements the Energy Security Act, in a law that is to be voted on this week, so to speak piggyback.
This is the so-called “Replacement Power Plant Provision Act”, which actually regulates how gas-fired power plants are shut down and replaced by coal-fired power plants in order to have more gas available for storage in gas caverns.
If it does not work to get the state bailout of gas companies through parliament in this way, then the Bundestag would have to meet for a special session during the summer break.
Because time is of the essence: the gas company Uniper is up to its neck.
The largest importer of Russian gas is currently having to stock up on gas from other sources, which is significantly more expensive.
In doing so, the company has to service supply contracts with municipal utilities and other gas suppliers and large industrial groups that were concluded before the Ukraine war on a long-term basis and at far more favorable conditions.
As the SPIEGEL reported, Uniper has to raise an amount in the double-digit millions every day.
The money is literally melting away from the hands of the energy giant.
The insolvency of major importers like Uniper would trigger a fatal chain reaction on the energy markets in Germany and Europe, which Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) compared to that after the collapse of the major bank Lehman Brothers at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis.
If Uniper were no longer able to deliver, the gas suppliers supplied by the group would also collapse, and gas deliveries to industry and private households would fail.
That's why Habeck can't afford for Uniper to buckle.
The group is »too big to fail«.
In the draft, Habeck's people have regulated that energy companies can slip under the financial care of the state.
They have to apply for this at the Ministry of Economics, which is "the authority responsible for negotiations on stabilization measures," according to the planned set of rules.
According to the draft, the federal government is "authorized to use the Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau" or other state institutions that hold the federal shares in the performance of its tasks.
The state protective shield for the energy companies should be limited to the end of 2027.
The article to be voted on is intended to help alleviate the acute crisis on the gas markets.
However, the Economics Ministry does not believe that rescuing individual gas importers will be enough.
Because the financial obligations could increase so much in the coming months that the companies will have to pass on their costs to private and large customers.
There is already an existing provision for this in the Energy Security Act.
But it provides that affected companies in an acute gas shortage simply pass on their higher costs.
This in turn would hit private households and industrial consumers hard.
Now the federal government has apparently agreed on an alternative solution over the weekend, which provides for a pay-as-you-go mechanism.
Its basic idea is: The exploding gas costs should be spread across the shoulders of industry and consumers.
To this end, the so-called market area manager Trading Hub Europe (THE) – an association of the major network operators – is to provide money for wholesalers such as Uniper so that they can buy the more expensive gas on the market.
This could be refinanced through higher network charges, which all customers of all gas suppliers would then have to pay.
De facto, the losses of Uniper & Co. would be socialized.
The principle of solidarity is necessary because gas supply companies and their customers are affected to different degrees by price increases on the gas market.
Those who have previously bought in Norway or the Netherlands are currently in a much better position than companies like Uniper, which have procured the substance in large quantities from Russia.
This allocation system with a so-called "balanced price adjustment" is also to be adopted in the Bundestag this week as an appendix to the Replacement Power Plant Provision Act.