Dhe federal government has maneuvered itself into a tricky situation with the new gas surcharge. It is becoming increasingly clear that the instrument needs to be changed. In the current constellation, it is therefore unavoidable to levy value added tax on the levy. This would increase the burden and leave the consumer with the impression that the state is making money from the miserable prices.
The surcharge serves to compensate gas importers like Uniper for part of their additional costs during the Ukraine war. These arise because Russia delivers smaller quantities than agreed and because importers have to buy elsewhere at high prices in order to fulfill their contracts with industrial customers and utilities. The Bundestag passed the levy in the Energy Security Act EnSiG, the cabinet passed a gas price adjustment regulation. The surcharge is to apply from October 1, 2022 to April 1, 2024. The “market area manager” Trading Hub Europe (THE) wants to announce the amount on Monday. 1.5 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour are under discussion.
Lindner criticized the cabinet
If the full tax rate were added, it would be up to 6 cents – roughly the total tariff before the price crisis. Finance Minister Christian Lindner (FDP) described the levy on Wednesday as an “element of social balance” because it obliges all gas consumers, not just Russian gas. “To levy value added tax on an act of solidarity, I think that’s politically incorrect.” Lindner let it be known that the law contains flaws in the tax exemption: “The model that the Bundestag passed in the EnSiG does not allow this for reasons of European law without further ado.” That is why one must continue to “deal with it intensively, also in discussions with the EU Commission”.
The legislature brought the difficulties into its own hands, as the Berlin energy law specialist Martin Riedel explains. Strictly speaking, the surcharge is not at all and therefore differs from the example of the EEG surcharge. As separate cost pools, levies would have to be notified to the Commission under state aid law, then they could also be exempt from tax. But Berlin wanted to save itself this route because of the time pressure and therefore added the gas surcharge to the normal tariff, the so-called working price. Individual parts of it cannot be exempted from tax.
Why not help finance the levy from VAT?
Energy lawyer Riedel can imagine various solutions to the dilemma. In this way, the tax on the entire labor price could be reduced from 19 to 7 percent. However, if the full rate were retained, the surcharge itself could be reduced in such a way that the total burden would remain bearable. The missing net amount from the levy would then have to be interim financed – possibly from VAT. In addition, the survey period of one and a half years could be extended to bring in more money.
These suggestions are also heard from other experts. “In principle, it would be correct to use possible additional income from VAT again in order to reduce the actual levy,” says Timm Kehler, Managing Director of the industry association Zukunft Gas. The state should not rake in any random profits: “And for the customers, this solution would result in the same total sum.”
Transparency would be important now
The Ministry of Economy declined to comment. As can be heard, the government is striving for a transparent overall concept for all charges on the gas price; Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) is also said to be increasingly interested in it. There are already two hidden levies in the energy price that are not shown separately: the balancing levy for shortfalls from the use of so-called control and balancing energy and the market area conversion levy for the switch from L to H gas.
Another new levy is the gas storage levy, which, like the gas levy, is due for the first time on October 1st. Because the Trading Hub Europe buys expensive gas to fill the storage. The storage levy is part of the labor price and is subject to VAT, says Riedel. The amount must also be fixed by August 18 in order to meet the deadline for the new basic supplier tariff on October 1. He expects all gas surcharges to reach 4 cents per kilowatt hour in the future. The current total price is about 18 cents.