Before the tank discount expires this Thursday, the President of the Federal Cartel Office, Andreas Mundt, has promised motorists to keep a close eye on the oil companies’ pricing. “Competition in the fuel market is not good,” said the top competition watchdog on Tuesday when presenting his authority’s annual report. Just over a handful of companies dominated the market “from well to gas station.”
Mundt emphasized that petrol and diesel prices have been rising again since mid-August. The Bundeskartellamt is examining whether the high fuel prices are due to market abuse by the providers. To this end, the market transparency office attached to the authority not only surveys the prices and quantities at 15,000 filling stations every day, but also examines the refinery and wholesale level. The first results of this test should be available in autumn.
At the same time, Mundt warned against too high expectations of the office. “High prices alone are no reason to intervene,” said the head of the agency. The fact that refueling is becoming more expensive is also due to the rising price of crude oil and the tight refinery capacities that have been reduced during the pandemic. In addition, the delivery of refined diesel from Germany is missing. At the same time, the demand for fuel and heating oil is increasing. The question that the Cartel Office is now investigating, however, is whether the prices at the gas stations will rise beyond the understandable level.
Last week, ADAC criticized the fact that the price for diesel had risen by 6.3 cents to EUR 1.98 per liter and for Super E 10 by 2.6 cents to EUR 1.73 compared to the previous week. On Tuesday, however, according to research by the Internet portal Clever tanken, it was again possible to refuel significantly cheaper in Berlin: Super E 10 was already available for 1.59 euros and diesel for 1.88 euros. The price range for fuel is very high. According to information from the Federal Cartel Office, the price fluctuates by up to 20 cents per day, and there is also an enormous north-south divide: in Bavaria, petrol costs up to 23 cents and diesel even up to 25 cents more than in the north.
The high fuel prices despite the tax cuts have sparked a discussion in politics about whether crisis winners should be burdened with an excess profit tax. Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has also announced a reform of competition law that is intended to make it easier for the Federal Cartel Office to skim off additional profits made in anti-competitive terms. Mundt welcomed this on Tuesday. So far, his authority has not made use of this instrument because it is too difficult to use. In Mundt’s opinion, an excess profit tax and the simplification of profit skimming by the Cartel Office are not mutually exclusive. “These are complementary instruments”.
Because of the impending gas shortage, cases in which companies want to cooperate are increasing, Mundt reported. Companies are planning, for example, to outsource production to others if necessary. The Federal Cartel Office examines such cases. However, when it comes to temporary and proportionate cooperation, Mundt is forgiving: “In an emergency, you can’t stand on the sidelines,” he said.
The Cartel Office, on the other hand, is taking “very courageous” action against the large Internet companies. The authority has already classified Alphabet (Google), Meta (Facebook) and Amazon as companies of outstanding market importance, which makes it easier for the competition authorities to intervene. Corresponding proceedings against Apple are still ongoing. Whether the Federal Cartel Office also wants to classify Microsoft as a company of cross-market importance is still open. While the finding at Alphabet and Meta is final, Amazon is defending itself before the Federal Court of Justice. In addition to the basic classification, the Federal Cartel Office has also opened numerous individual proceedings against Meta, Google, Apple and Amazon. The authority is also currently investigating whether Google dominates the market for online advertising.