Relief only for a short time (

Gas flames on a kitchen stove

Gas flames on a kitchen stove

Gas flames on a kitchen stove

Photo: dpa/Marijan Murat

The relief is great after the bosses of the traffic light coalition decided to end the gas levy and a gas price cap. There is approval from business associations and trade unions, consumer protection groups and social organizations, the housing industry and municipal utilities, as well as from the opposition with the exception of the far right. With a view to the mood in the country, steam is now being taken out of the boiler. Ultimately, the SPD, Greens and FDP had no choice but to improve energy prices more than a little, as was originally intended.

However, much is still unclear. First of all, there is an agreement in principle, in which sums are mentioned that are certainly appropriate to the situation. The gas price is to be limited for certain consumption quantities to a level that protects private households and companies from being overburdened. Exactly what that should look like is still being worked out by experts – it will be weeks before a decision is made. The Institute for Macroeconomics and Business Cycle Research, which is close to the trade unions, assumes a sum of 16 to 37 billion euros for private households in 2023, which will not pose a problem for the state budget. Either a basic contingent of gas is subsidized and the rest is billed at market prices, or a certain proportion of last year’s consumption is price-capped, or there is a mixed form. Each model has advantages, but also brings with it injustices. The first model disadvantages consumers in uninsulated apartments or houses, the second primarily promotes people with high consumption. And if you’ve never heated with gas, you won’t get anything out of it.

It must be said, however, that certain injustices cannot be avoided in the short term. However, immediate solutions are needed, because a hell of a lot of time has been wasted with regard to the energy crisis. Six months ago, or sometimes even longer, experts predicted with a high degree of probability that gas prices would rise dramatically by the winter. Only a peaceful settlement of the Ukraine conflict, a kind of foreign policy miracle, would have avoided this. In this respect, in addition to the question of alternative sources of supply, clarification should also have been provided months ago on the question of price, instead of fueling the general uncertainty even further due to the incorrect design of the gas surcharge. The key date of October 1 and the price-driving shortages in winter, which are now certain after the sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, generated the last-minute panic that ultimately brought about the gas price cap. Which in turn gives a deep insight into how decisions are made in the traffic light coalition. It remains to be seen whether the three parties will now receive tailwind for the upcoming Lower Saxony elections and everything else would probably be justified.

Wasting months has dangerous consequences: the heating season, in which the demand for natural gas increases noticeably, has already begun, and no one knows what costs can actually be expected. But that is a prerequisite for consumption behavior. The head of the Federal Network Agency warned only this week that consumption is currently too high in view of the supply situation in winter. The fact that there is now relief after the price cap decision could probably exacerbate this problem. Therefore, clarity about pricing is needed quickly. On the one hand, this must prevent people from freezing at home or closing down companies because of unpayable bills, and on the other hand, gas being consumed as if everything was the same as usual. Without a clear reduction in private life and in the economy, entire branches of industry are threatened with forced closure. That would be more dramatic than the corona lockdowns, since these are preliminary products that are urgently needed elsewhere. It would then hardly remain just short-time work, but many people could become unemployed. Only a record-warm winter would help.

In addition, a lot of time was wasted that should have been used to permanently address the current problems. When it comes to the rapid expansion of renewables and energy efficiency, the heat transition and the climate-neutral conversion of industrial processes, there is still a lot of work to be done. Even if many are relieved now – this can only be for a very short time.


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