Habeck plans to tighten antitrust law in controversy over fuel discounts

Habeck plans to tighten antitrust law in controversy over fuel discounts

Robert Habeck

Robert Habeck

© 2022 AFP

The dissatisfaction with the persistently high fuel prices despite the tank discount calls Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) onto the scene.

The dissatisfaction with the persistently high fuel prices despite the tank discount calls Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) onto the scene. He wants to quickly expand the powers of the Federal Cartel Office to, among other things, facilitate the skimming of anti-competitive profits, according to a ministry paper that was available to the AFP news agency on Sunday. Meanwhile, the high fuel prices are causing trouble right up to the Office of the Federal President.

The fuel discount is a three-month reduction in the energy tax on fuel that has been in effect since June 1st. After a noticeable drop immediately after the tank discount came into effect, prices at the gas stations had recently risen again every day, according to the ADAC.

“The first records of the Federal Cartel Office on the tank discount show that the gap between crude oil and gas station prices has risen sharply since the beginning of the month,” Habeck told the “Spiegel”. Apparently, “what many experts had warned about has happened: the mineral oil companies are reaping the profits, and consumers are not noticing the tax cut.”

The industry rejects the allegations. The spokesman for the mineral oil lobby association Fuels and Energy, Alexander von Gersdorff, told the “Welt am Sonntag” that the procurement costs for petrol and diesel had risen sharply. The energy tax cut is therefore “just not received by the customer at first glance” – without the tank discount, the price would be even higher.

But Habeck sees a need for action. The change in the law intended for this year “cannot have an effect in the short term in the current situation,” the ministry concedes in the position paper that “Spiegel” first reported on. The state could intervene “better in the future”. For the current problem, the paper refers to the ongoing investigation by the Federal Cartel Office.

According to the four-sided concept, among other things, the hurdles for skimming off advantages under antitrust law are to be lowered in the future. This should make it easier for the Cartel Office to collect profits resulting from anti-competitive behavior. The paper emphasizes that it is “not a tax instrument” – this can be understood as an implicit rejection of the so-called excess profit tax, which is demanded by Green politicians, among others.

According to the ministry paper, the amendment to the law is also intended to create an “abuse-free unbundling option”. This could mean that large mineral oil companies are forced to sell individual parts of their business – even if no anti-competitive mergers could be identified. According to the paper, such an unbundling can only be used “as a last resort”.

The background is the strong concentration on the mineral oil market in Germany. “From oil production to transport and refineries to filling stations – the complete market power lies in the hands of a few,” says the ministry paper. Because the gas station prices are also very transparent and understandable, the operators reacted immediately to the competition – “even without an agreement that violates antitrust law, the prices are very quickly adjusted to each other”.

Criticism of the current pricing policy also came from Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the weekend. “I understand the resentment of the citizens when many have to limit themselves and make some extra profits. We have to take the anger seriously,” he told the “Bild am Sonntag”. It is important “that we ensure that some people cannot take unjustified advantages from the situation”,

AFP

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