German Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck addresses a news conference in Vienna, Austria July 12, 2022. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) has questioned the prioritization of consumers over industry in the event of a gas shortage. Private households would also have to “pay their share,” said Habeck during a visit to Vienna on Tuesday.

Because “a permanent or long-term interruption of industrial production” would have “massive consequences” for the supply situation.

“The European Gas Emergency Ordinance stipulates that critical infrastructure and consumers are protected and industry and business are not,” explained the Economics Minister.

This makes sense for short-term and regional problems, such as when a power plant fails. “And then they say, well, we’ll bridge that with short-time work benefits for industry and we’ll repair them later, but nobody should freeze.”

“But that’s not the scenario we have at the moment,” said Habeck. “We’re possibly talking about a months-long interruption in gas flows.” That’s why we have to think again and rework at this point.

Habeck’s statements are aimed at binding European rules. It clearly states that private households and elementary infrastructure such as hospitals are “protected customers”. According to the current legal situation, the gas can only be turned off after all other customers – especially power plants and industrial consumers – are no longer served. So far there has not been a significant debate at European level to change this. Habeck apparently wants to change that.

Berlin’s SPD state and parliamentary group leader, Raed Saleh, accuses Habeck of passing on the costs of his own energy policy failures to consumers. “It is right to secure industry and jobs. But Habeck wants to pass on the feared cost explosions of up to 500 percent to consumers,” Saleh told the Tagesspiegel on Tuesday. “This is cool politics.”

Previously, Habeck had questioned the prioritization of gas supply for households. A permanent interruption of industrial production would have massive consequences for the supply, said Habeck on Tuesday. Saleh demanded from Habeck that the federal government should participate more in the exploding costs. Due to the increased costs, the federal government will have “around 50 billion euros in unplanned additional income from precisely these cost developments in VAT” between 2021 and 2023, as Saleh said.

“I’m very worried that the middle class in Germany is slipping.” Habeck now has to “do instead of warning”. Saleh also criticized that the Greens themselves had caused the current development.

“The Greens already declared natural gas to be a transitional technology in 2020 and in the 2021 election campaign in order to force the phase-out of coal and of course knew the dependence on oil and gas supplies from Russia and the low levels in our storage facilities,” said the SPD state and parliamentary group leader .

“Habeck’s promises to deliver liquid gas from anywhere seem like castles in the air.” Habeck warns “more and more flowery” about their own decisions. “He behaves like a chief physician who doesn’t put in a bypass during a heart emergency operation, but complains about the allegedly wrong diet of the patient in recent years.”

The tenants’ association reacted negatively to Habeck’s statements: “We expect the federal government to comply with applicable EU law and really pull out all the stops to ensure the gas supply for private households and industry,” said the association when asked by the Tagesspiegel .

Speculations about softening the prioritization of critical infrastructure such as hospitals or old people’s homes and private households are neither expedient nor relevant.

The Berlin Tenants’ Association also expressed skepticism and called for the previous prioritization to be retained. However, managing director Reiner Wild fears that regulatory requirements will allow interventions in the permissible room temperature and that owners will be given privileges over tenants.

Meanwhile, the FDP is putting pressure on the Greens to extend the use of nuclear power in Germany. Actually, the remaining three nuclear power plants should be switched off at the end of the year. In view of the energy crisis, the Union has long been vehemently demanding that it not be taken off the grid for the time being.

Now FDP faction leader Christian Dürr spoke out in favor of a longer term for the nuclear power plants. The energy policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Michael Kruse, told the Tagesspiegel that Germany needs a “nuclear power summit” with operators of power plants, the responsible industry associations and politicians to clarify the open questions. “No kilowatt hour should be given away lightly if we should find ourselves in an emergency in winter.”

The Greens consider this a sham debate. Both Habeck and parliamentary group leader Katharina Dröge rejected the demands. Nuclear power hardly helps to alleviate the gas shortage in Germany.

When it comes to gas supply, the main focus is on the areas of heat and industry, said Habeck. “Nuclear power doesn’t help us at all.” He also referred to extensive safety checks in the event of continued operation.

The Berlin Senate is working on its own concepts to protect Berliners from freezing in winter. This was confirmed by Senator for Social Affairs Katja Kipping to the Tagesspiegel. “I’m really thinking a lot about the upcoming harsh winter of energy poverty and what Berlin can do to cushion it,” said the left-wing politician.

According to Tagesspiegel information, these could be heat islands, for example. There are discussions about using district centers or other social facilities for this. However, the consultations with “all actors” are still ongoing, as the social administration announced when asked by the Tagesspiegel. However, the occupancy of gyms is not explicitly planned, said Kipping.

Habeck was in the Czech Republic on Monday and signed a joint declaration on energy security there. The aim is to “send a clear signal of cooperation between our countries,” explained the Vice Chancellor afterwards. He signed a similar declaration in Vienna with the local Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler.

Austria is highly dependent on Russian energy imports and is therefore, like Germany, under great pressure due to the lack of gas supplies. Russian President Vladimir Putin is aiming for a split in Europe, Gewessler said. “But Putin will not succeed because and if we stand together.”