Thursday, December 7

Uniper’s Finnish owner should contribute to its rescue, German economy minister says

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BERLIN — The majority shareholder of Uniper, Finnish state energy company Fortum, should contribute to the rescue of the struggling gas importer, German economy minister Robert Habeck said, as Germany confronts the scale of its energy dilemma.

Uniper asked this week for a German government bailout, warning losses due to trickling supplies from Russia and soaring gas prices could reach 10 billion euros ($10.2 billion) this year as Moscow’s economic war with Europe claimed its biggest casualty yet.

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“It belongs to someone, someone who is solvent and can provide support,” Habeck, who is also energy minister, told Deutschlandfunk radio in an interview. “So it’s right to consider models where the owners also bear an obligation.”

Uniper, Germany’s biggest gas importer and storage operator, said on Friday that Fortum had made a proposal to Berlin that includes ringfencing the system-critical German businesses under government ownership.

Germany, which prospered from years of dependable flows of cheap Russian gas, is scrambling to contain the impact of flows of Siberian gas slowing to a trickle.

While Russia blames technical problems for the stoppages, Western governments say these are pretexts and that Moscow is responding to crippling sanctions imposed on it over its invasion of Ukraine.

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German has allocated 15 billion euros of public money to buy gas from elsewhere to ensure gas storage is full by the winter, but, urging the public to save energy, Habeck warned that if gas prices climbed further that sum might not be enough.

“Germans shower for an average of 10 minutes,” he said. “And I think even five minutes is too long.”

Already, some housing associations have announced they are lowering temperatures in buildings they run, and Habeck added that laws requiring workplaces to be heated for much of the day could easily be softened.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a video statement on Saturday that “questions of energy security are preoccupying us at the moment. It will continue to do so for the coming weeks, months and years.” ($1 = 0.9820 euros)

(Reporting by Markus Wacket, writing by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)