Even after the reduction in fuel taxes, the prices at the petrol pumps hardly fall. Finance Minister Lindner is sticking to the tank discount. Can a tightening of antitrust law help?

Federal Finance Minister Christian Lindner defended the tank discount despite all doubts about its effectiveness. Without the tax rebate, fuel prices would be “much higher,” said the FDP politician on ARD and ZDF.

In principle, Lindner also approved the initiative by Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) to tighten antitrust law. The FDP leader continues to strictly reject an excess profit tax to skim off extra profits from the oil companies, but for the coalition partners SPD and Greens the discussion about it is not over yet.

On June 1st, the energy tax on petrol and diesel was reduced significantly to relieve motorists. But this was hardly noticeable at the pumps. In the ZDF program “Berlin direkt” and in the ARD “Tagesthemen”, Lindner resisted the impression that the tank discount was a non-starter. He pointed to higher world market prices, the strong dollar and shortages at refineries as factors in price formation. “I have the impression that the debate is a bit emotionally charged,” said Lindner on ZDF.

Green boss: discount relieves oil companies

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil told the “Rheinische Post”: “The tank discount is for commuters, not for the oil multinationals.” Green party leader Ricarda Lang admitted in the ARD “Report from Berlin” that the discount actually does not relieve the people, but the oil companies. Nevertheless, her party is sticking to the tax reduction. “We stand by the compromises that we agreed together in the traffic light coalition.” But one thing is clear: “We have no interest in watching the oil companies make big profits.” The debate about other instruments such as an excess profit tax is not yet over.

Minister of Economics Habeck had threatened the corporations with a crackdown at the weekend. He wants to tighten antitrust law and, if necessary, also enable companies to be broken up. In addition, it should be easier to siphon off illegal profits. This is essentially a position paper from the Federal Ministry of Economics, which was first reported on Sunday by the “Spiegel”.

Support for SPD and FDP

Habeck solicited support for his project. He hopes “that everyone who has demanded that the cartel office intervene is also ready to put it in a position to be able to intervene,” said Habeck of the “world”. “This no longer applies to the tank discount, but it sharpens the sword for the future and sends a clear signal that enrichment at the expense of others is not that easy.” Nevertheless, he said: “I understand the disappointment and anger of consumers when corporations simply pocket the tax cut, which was intended to ease commuters, as a profit.”

“It’s good when action is finally taken. Such price agreements are indecent,” said SPD leader Klingbeil on Habeck’s plan. Finance Minister Lindner said that the implementation would be looked at. “The direction is right,” he emphasized. FDP leader Christian Dürr told the editorial network Germany: “Proposals that are constitutional and do not harm Germany as an investment location are welcome.” The FDP attaches particular importance to creating transparency about price developments at gas stations.

Union criticizes Habeck’s proposal

The Union, on the other hand, was skeptical about Habeck’s move. Group Vice President Thorsten Frei emphasized in the “Rheinische Post” that the tank discount should not be misused to maximize profits. However, the cartel office already has options to intervene. The CDU politician warned of a possible right of intervention by the authority, which can be used regardless of possible abuse. “At this point, extreme caution is required. There must be no arbitrary skimming off of profits, »said Frei. Union parliamentary group leader Jens Spahn evaluated Habeck’s ideas in the RND as an admission by the coalition that “their discount billions seep away without effect”.

The President of the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Marcel Fratzscher, called Habeck’s proposal an “important initiative”. The problem with the mineral oil companies is not that they make profits per se, “but that they abuse their market power at the expense of consumers,” said the economist of the “Augsburger Allgemeine” (Monday). A reform of antitrust law will come too late to lower fuel prices, Fratzscher said. The tax rebate is a “mistake with announcement”.

The debate about an excess profit tax to levy a levy on extra profits caused by the crisis has not yet been settled. SPD leader Klingbeil made a similar statement to Green colleague Lang and called it “worth considering using companies that are now making extra profits more to finance the common good”. The FDP boss hopes, however, that with Habeck’s initiative, the issue of excess profits tax will be off the table. “They would deliver our tax law to arbitrariness and political mood swings,” warned Lindner on ZDF.