15.08.2022, Berlin: Robert Habeck (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen), Vizekanzler und Bundesminister fu·r Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz, informiert zur Gasumlage. Foto: Britta Pedersen/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil has criticized Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) for “technical errors” in the gas levy. Habeck undoubtedly has an interesting style of communication, “and of course we notice that it is well received by the public,” said Klingbeil to the “Zeit Online” portal, according to a statement on Saturday. At the same time, however, he warned: “In the end, it’s not just nice words that count in politics, above all the substance has to be right – that’s what we’re measured by.”

It is now “important that we work together to eliminate the technical errors that occurred during the gas levy,” said Klingbeil. For him, the criteria for when a company receives money from the levy have not yet been understood. “It cannot be that companies that made billions during the crisis are still collecting billions in tax money.”

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Private households and companies are to pay the surcharge of a good 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour from October, with VAT on gas consumption falling to seven percent. The money is intended to relieve companies that have to buy expensive gas elsewhere to fulfill their contracts because of the reduced deliveries from Russia. This is intended to prevent company bankruptcies and delivery failures.

According to the current regulations, companies that are not currently in economic difficulties or are even making high profits in other business areas would also benefit from the levy. This also triggered massive criticism within the traffic light coalition. Habeck therefore wants to review his previous plans for the levy again.

The employer-oriented Institute of the German Economy (IW) considers improvements to be possible. Politicians must “sharpen the criteria for claiming compensation payments and take more account of the financial situation of companies and their systemic relevance,” said IW energy experts Andreas Fischer and Malte Küper to the editorial network Germany (RND).

“The fact that with the levy, according to the current interpretation, companies can also claim support that may not get into financial difficulties themselves proves to be a design flaw – this needs to be improved,” the experts demanded. The idea of ​​solidarity-based redistribution of additional costs for gas procurement by means of a levy is fundamentally correct.

The umbrella organization of the energy industry (BDEW) defended the surcharge, but also campaigned for changes. “The best way would have been to support the gas import companies from federal funds or through loan safeguards,” said BDEW boss Kerstin Andreae to the RND. However, the federal government has chosen the path of the levy, which spreads the burden more widely.

CDU leader Friedrich Merz is also in favor of adjustments. At a party conference of the CDU state association in Oldenburg, he accused Habeck of making mistakes in the design of the gas levy. “He will have to correct the first really big mistake,” said Merz, who also heads the parliamentary group, on Saturday in Wardenburg. “With this gas levy, the Federal Minister of Economics will suffer his first major defeat.”

Merz also criticized the fact that companies that are doing well economically could also benefit from the gas levy. “If the state puts up a honeypot on the market square, then you shouldn’t be surprised if the doors around it open and everyone is up to their upper arms in this pot.”

The Union faction submitted an application to the Bundestag on Friday that provides for the levy to be lifted. From Merz’s point of view, parliament can decide on such a step in accordance with the Energy Security Act. The first week of the Bundestag session after the summer break begins on September 6th.

The energy policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Michael Kruse, called for the gas surcharge to be limited to companies in difficulties. He proposed a staged test procedure for this. “The deficits that have become known in the design of the gas levy must be remedied as soon as possible,” he told the “Rheinische Post” from Düsseldorf.

The Greens politician Anton Hofreiter called for the gas levy to be dropped altogether. “The simpler solution would be to say we give up the gas surcharge, we give up the VAT reduction and help the affected companies directly,” he told RND.

The German Tenants’ Association also wants to “stamp down” the levy. “Because we assume that the reduction in VAT will not fully offset the burden of the levy,” said President Lukas Siebenkotten of the Bayern media group.