If the energy crisis in Germany worsens in the course of the Russian war in Ukraine in autumn and winter, the federal government wants to protect citizens from having their electricity or gas cut off. “It can happen that in the event of an absolute crisis, the Federal Network Agency allows energy companies to pass on increased prices to consumers despite a price guarantee,” said Consumer Protection Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens) of the “Bild am Sonntag”. “We then need a moratorium on electricity and gas cuts for consumers. And in the event of a crisis, we would also have to decide on another aid package.”
On the one hand, it must be ensured that the suppliers can maintain the energy supply in the country, said the Green politician. “And on the other hand, in such a crisis situation, nobody should have their electricity or gas cut off because they are in arrears with the bill.”
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In addition, energy companies are only allowed to stop deliveries to their customers three months in advance, said Lemke. “At the moment the gas supply is secured, but yes: we have to be prepared for difficult times in winter, when consumers need special protection.”
Therefore, the federal government has determined “that energy companies must inform their customers three months in advance if they want to stop supplying energy”. This prevents a situation like last winter, when cheap electricity providers simply stopped delivering in rows.
In view of the impending gas shortage and high energy prices, the Association of Towns and Municipalities suggested setting up heating rooms. “Since nobody can say exactly how dramatic the development will be, consideration should also be given to providing heat islands or warm rooms where older people in particular can stay even in a very cold winter,” said managing director Gerd Landsberg to the newspaper.
City Day President Markus Lewe (CDU) called on people in Germany to start saving energy immediately. “Even now we all have to save every kilowatt hour that is possible. Everything needs to be put to the test, in every household and at work,” says Lewe of the Funke media group. “Cities don’t leave out any area either: convert street lighting more quickly and reduce it at night, less hot water in public buildings, run air conditioning systems for shorter periods and adjust heating better. Saving energy and expanding renewable energies now have priority.”
Lewe also called for better protection for municipal energy suppliers. The federal government must put the municipal utilities “under the protective umbrella for the economy”. In addition, there must be “guarantees and loans for affected utilities and an insolvency moratorium to suspend the obligation to file for bankruptcy.”
The Lord Mayor of Münster emphasized: “The municipal utilities supply millions of households, businesses and industry on site. Local transport, municipal hospitals, garbage disposal and baths depend on it. Security of supply must not be jeopardized.”
Berlin’s Senator for Economic Affairs, Stephan Schwarz (independent), also demanded that the public sector have to turn the energy regulator just like private households and companies. “Of course, the functionality of the authorities and occupational safety must be maintained, but otherwise I see no taboos,” he emphasized. The Berlin Senate has set up an interdepartmental task force. “The goal is for all Senate departments to identify further potential savings of at least ten percent by August at the latest.”
Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck pointed out on Saturday the imponderables that Germany may face in the coming months. In an interview with Deutschlandfunk, the Greens politician said with regard to the expected delivery volume from Russia this year: “Anything is possible. Everything can happen. It may be that it flows again, even more than before. It may be that nothing comes at all. And honestly, we always have to expect the worst and work a little bit for the best.”
Saving, storing and auctioning gas serve to avert the political “nightmare scenario” of an undersupply. Should this scenario nevertheless become reality, he expects heated debates, “also about my ministry, about me personally,” said Habeck, who, according to surveys, is currently one of the most popular politicians. “This will put Germany to a crucial test that we haven’t had for a long time,” he added. “This will strain social solidarity to the limit and probably beyond.”
When asked about further relief for citizens due to high energy costs, Habeck replied: “The adjustment this year will be tough and for some people too tough.” It is also clear that “we have to absorb it in socio-political terms”. Exactly how this will happen will be discussed as part of the “concerted action” in which Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) will talk to trade unions and employees about crisis management.
Scholz made it clear on Saturday that he assumes that measures against energy shortages will also be necessary beyond the coming winter. In his video message, the Chancellor said: “These days we are concerned with the security of our energy supply. It will be for the next few weeks, months and years.”
The President of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Marcel Fratzscher, also warned of a “social ordeal”. Movements like the yellow vests in France are also possible in Germany, Fratzscher told the “Handelsblatt”. “The current crisis could be the last drop that breaks the camel’s back of increasing social divisions.” The DIW boss called for higher wages and a permanent increase in social benefits. Politicians should not try to “silence people with placebos such as one-off payments”.