BERLIN — The German government said Wednesday that it has agreed to nationalize the country’s biggest gas importing company, Uniper, expanding state intervention in the industry to prevent an energy shortage resulting from Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The deal with Uniper builds on a rescue package agreed in July and features a capital increase of 8 billion euros (dollars) that the government will finance. As part of the agreement, the government will gain a 99% stake in Uniper, which until now was controlled by Finland-based Fortum. The Finnish government has the largest stake in Fortum.
Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, said the deal was necessary because of the significance that Uniper plays in the German gas market. It still needs to be approved by the European Commission.
Uniper supplies about 40% of all gas customers in Germany and before the war it bought about half of its gas from Russia.
The company’s losses mounted as Russia has cut back natural gas supplies to European countries supporting Ukraine. Prices have soared for the fuel needed to heat homes, generate electricity and power factories, raising fears of business closures, rationing and a recession as the weather turns cold.
European countries have scrambled to counter the price spiral and prioritized securing their energy supplies for winter, including by filling their natural gas storage. Just last week, Germany also moved to take control of three Russian-owned oil refineries before an embargo on Russian oil takes effect next year.
Habeck noted that Germany has managed to fill its gas storage facilities to over 90% capacity in preparation for the winter heating season despite Russia halting gas deliveries through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. Wholesale prices for gas have almost halved since the summer, he said.
“This means that, as a whole, we have coped quite well with the situation,” said Habeck. “But for Uniper the situation become significantly more dramatic and significantly worse.”
Citing the importance of Uniper for the German gas market, Habeck said the government had chosen to nationalize the company “in order to ensure security of supply for Germany.”
Chancellor Olaf Scholz has insisted that Germany is well-placed to get through the winter with enough energy, pointing to new liquefied natural gas terminals expected to start work in the coming months, among other things.
In a separate move last Friday, his government announced that German authorities were taking control of three Russian-owned refineries to ensure energy security. Two subsidiaries of Russian oil giant Rosneft are being put under the administration of Mueller’s Federal Network Agency.
Rosneft accounts for about 12% of Germany’s oil refining capacity, importing oil worth several hundred million euros (dollars) every month, according to the government, which said the trusteeship was initially due to last for six months.
The network regulator already was put in charge of Gazprom’s former German subsidiary in April, a decision that the government said was necessary to bring “order to the conditions” at the company after the Kremlin-controlled parent company abruptly cut ties with the unit.