Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) wants to react to the fuel prices, which are high despite the tank discount, with a significant tightening of antitrust law, according to information from the Tagesspiegel. Accordingly, the state should be able to skim off the profits of mineral oil companies without proof of market abuse and, if necessary, force the companies to sell business areas such as refineries or gas stations.
An amendment to the law against restraints of competition is to be brought forward to this year. This emerges from the concept that is available to the Tagesspiegel and about which the “Spiegel” reported first. In doing so, he is also putting the FDP under pressure to reform for more competition. The FDP had accused Habeck, as the minister responsible for the cartel office, of not taking enough action – the tax rebate on the price of petrol and diesel, which cost around three billion euros and only worked to a limited extent, was enforced at the request of Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP).
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The federal government accuses the oil companies of not fully passing on the tax deduction on petrol and diesel from the federal government’s relief package to consumers.
Lindner signals support for the proposals submitted to tighten antitrust law. “The direction is right,” said Federal Minister of Finance Lindner on Sunday evening on ZDF. The cartel office must also be able to control markets.
The Minister of Finance said that he hoped that with the planned action on antitrust law, ideas for a so-called excess profit tax would be off the table. Greens and also important parts of the SPD had demanded this for companies that profited excessively from the war in Ukraine. Lindner rejects such a special tax as any form of tax increases.
The FDP fears that highly innovative companies such as Biontech, which make high profits from developing vaccines but invest in cancer research, for example, could be driven out of the country as collateral damage. With the planned change, however, such profit skimmings would be limited to certain sectors in which, as in the current case, there are indications of excessively high prices.
“The first data sets by 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,” the paper says. “The tank discount is obviously not passed on in full.” Antitrust law, as it currently applies in Germany, only allows intervention if abuse can be proven.
“The hurdles for this are very high. The same applies to skimming off profits. Here, too, the hurdles in current law are so high that the instrument has never been used. Therefore, the Cartel Office’s options for action must be expanded, as must the possibilities for antitrust profit skimming “Those who profit from anti-competitive behavior at the expense of consumers must give back these profits,” it emphasizes.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the aim is now above all to enable unbundling that is independent of abuse in order to create competition in consolidated markets.
The amendment is intended to give the state far-reaching options, including breaking up monopoly structures – “without having to prove that there has been a violation of competition law.” Abuse-independent unbundling does not help in the short term for the tank discount, “but improves the Federal Cartel Office’s options for action considerably in the future.”
So far it has been very difficult to prove concrete agreements. Due to the fact that only a few large corporations dominate the oil and petrol market from production to the refinery, there seems to be a certain automatism in which individual agreements are not even necessary.
There is a parallel behavior with the prices in the market. This means that the companies know the prices of their competitors at the petrol stations because the market is very transparent. “This means that even without an anti-trust agreement, the prices are very quickly aligned; abuse of competition law is difficult to prove,” it says.
The change in antitrust law is intended to create an opportunity to unbundle the mineral oil and gas station market, among other things. In a further step, the Federal Cartel Office should be able to skim off the profits more quickly.
The tank discount enforced by the FDP came into force on June 1 as part of the federal government’s relief package. It is a three-month reduction in the energy tax on fuels. In the case of petrol, the tax rates are reduced by 29.55 cents per liter and in the case of diesel by 14.04 cents, plus a lower value added tax on the total price.
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. Representatives of the CDU and FDP recently asked Habeck to take action against the oil companies in view of the continued high fuel prices. He is now playing the ball back to the FDP in the traffic light coalition with his template.