The energy crisis overwhelmed Olaf Scholz’ vacation. Three days after his two-week sabbatical to Bavaria, the German Chancellor traveled back to Berlin on Friday July 22 to announce the rescue of the Uniper Group, the main importer and storage facility of gas across the Rhine, which is due to of falling Russia was threatened with bankruptcy gas supplies.
The plan, which has been under discussion for weeks, envisages the state taking a stake of up to 30% in Uniper’s capital and granting a public loan of up to 7.7 billion euros in the form of bonds convertible into shares. The credit line that the company already has with the German public bank KfW will also be increased from 2 to 9 billion euros. “Uniper is a company of outstanding importance for the economic development of our country and for the energy supply of the citizens”Mr Scholz explained by presenting these immediate measures at a press conference in the Chancellery.
Uniper, 80% owned by the Finnish group Fortum, suffered from the consequences of the war in Ukraine. Since mid-June, the company has only received 40 percent of the contractually negotiated gas volumes from the Russian gas giant Gazprom, whose main customer is in Germany. In order to be able to continue to supply its customers, the group not only has to buy the missing quantities on the spot market, where prices have exploded, but also has to draw on its own reserves.
“The risk is that of a Lehman Brothers of Energy”
However, since Uniper was unable to pass this increase on to its buyers’ bills immediately, it headed straight for bankruptcy, its losses amounting to tens of millions of euros a day. “The risk is that of a Lehman Brothers of Energy”warned the German Economics Minister Robert Habeck at the end of June in relation to the American bank, whose collapse in 2008 triggered a global financial crisis.
If it bails out the company, the bailout plan presented by Mr. Scholz will not be without consequences for consumers. The Chancellor made no secret of this and stated that Uniper was authorized to pass on gas price increases to its customers “from 1ah October, maybe even on 1ah September”. For a family of four, the gas bill could increase by 200 to 300 euros a year, he admitted.
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