Peter Basse sounds bitter on the phone. “People vent their frustration at the gas station.” Customers recently accused him of enrichment, usury and sabotage. Basse, who has worked as a station manager at an independent gas station in Berlin for almost 20 years, has no influence whatsoever on fuel prices.
Although he manages the station, he does not determine the prices at the pump, but the mineral oil company from which he buys diesel and petrol. He only determines the prices in the shop. But many customers don’t know that. “You don’t meet the people who are to blame for the situation,” says Basse, who actually has a different name. His real name can’t be in the newspaper, otherwise he’d be out of a job very quickly. Because Basse is extremely critical of what is being experienced at his pump these days: “Here, the highest level of cash is being paid.”
The three-month reduction in mineral oil tax, which is often treated as a tank discount, has been in effect for a week. In view of the sharp rise in energy prices, the traffic light government wanted to relieve commuters and drivers over the summer months. Fuel prices should fall well below two euros. 15 cent savings on diesel, 30 cents on petrol. But after a brief drop in prices at the beginning of the month, fuel prices have long since been scratching the 2-euro mark again since the Pentecost weekend.
This development is confirmed by Andreas Mundt, President of the Federal Cartel Office, which monitors the price development at around 15,000 petrol stations in Germany. “With the introduction of the tax reduction, the price for the E5 and E10 initially fell by 27 cents and the price for diesel by 11 cents on average,” Mundt said on Tuesday. “Since then, prices have risen slightly again, by around five to six cents on average.”
This causes a lack of understanding not only among drivers, but also in the industry itself. “Actually, the fuel price should now be around 1.70 euros,” says petrol station manager Peter Basse. He accuses the mineral oil companies of rip-off. “The fuel price was artificially raised before the tank discount began,” he says. In fact, the Federal Cartel Office launched an investigation in mid-April because the selling prices for crude oil in the refineries and the prices at the petrol stations differed significantly in some cases. Basse thinks that the oil suppliers first got rich from the drivers and now also from the taxpayers. “We should have thought this through better politically beforehand,” says Basse.
Even the traffic light government, which decided on the tank discount in a night session together with other relief, such as the nine-euro ticket, is no longer particularly happy with the instrument a week after its introduction. “Here we actually have a discount that goes into the pockets of the oil companies,” said Green Party member of the Bundestag Renate Künast on Tuesday in the “Morgenmagazin”. The former consumer protection minister advocates an early end to the tank discount. The government should “rather implement what we have in budgetary funds differently and in a more targeted manner.”
The SPD is also very critical of the tank discount: “We currently see very clearly that the relief effect of the tank discount is not reaching the citizens,” said the deputy parliamentary group leader of the SPD, Detlef Müller. The Bundestag did not decide on a subsidy program for the mineral oil companies, but rather relief for the population. “If there is no corresponding effect here, we will have to make adjustments, for example through a corresponding obligation to pass on the tax relief,” Müller told the Tagesspiegel.
But the smallest coalition partner considers the debate to be completely premature and misguided. Christian Durr. Group leader of the FDP, considers the tank discount to be a success because – contrary to what was forecast – it already caused fuel prices to fall last Wednesday. “That’s a good sign and speaks in favor of the tank discount as a relief mechanism,” Dürr told the Tagesspiegel.
The supplies that were delivered to the petrol stations before the tank discount came into effect are still subject to the higher tax rate, so it is not surprising that the fuel prices would still be around two euros. One must now observe the price development in the coming days. He therefore thinks “nothing” about a premature end to the tank discount. And Dürr sees no need for action otherwise either: “I don’t think any improvements are necessary on the instrument itself.”
Oil companies like Shell also claim to have passed on the discount to customers: “Shell passed on this tax reduction including sales tax in full to all stations in Germany on the night of June 1st,” a company spokeswoman told the Tagesspiegel. However, the energy tax is only one of many components that determine the price of fuel. “The price at the pump is also determined by the procurement costs and above all the price for a tonne of diesel and a tonne of petrol on the spot market in Rotterdam, because we don’t fill up with crude oil,” said the spokeswoman. The price pressure in Rotterdam is the reason for the recently increased prices at the pump.
At the Federal Cartel Office in Bonn, this can only be checked in part. Above all, illegal price fixing can be sanctioned by the authority, which reports to the Ministry of Economic Affairs. “Neither the Federal Cartel Office nor any other authority in Germany can lower prices at the push of a button,” explains President Andreas Mundt. Indications of illegal behavior would be pursued consistently. But despite the crisis, many gaps remain for companies, says Mundt: “High prices and also making high profits are not prohibited.”