DThe news doesn’t seem particularly spectacular at first: Securing Energy for Europe (Sefe), formerly Gazprom Germania, which was most recently under state trusteeship, is being nationalized. Loans of 13.8 billion euros from the state development bank KfW are largely converted into equity, and 225 million euros in fresh share capital are added. After Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) had already transferred operational management to the Federal Network Agency in April, he is now taking the next step with reference to the impending insolvency: Sefe will become a state gas company.
The details of the “debt-equity swap” are of particular interest to lawyers. The Sefe case is also of strategic importance. Because the state influence in the field of energy infrastructure is increasing. As early as 2018, KfW took over 20 percent of the electricity network operator 50 Hertz on the order of the then Minister Peter Altmaier (CDU). KfW is currently involved with a 50 percent share and 500 million euros in the construction of the liquid gas terminal in Brunsbüttel.
The federal government is now taking over the ailing gas importer Uniper in full and not just 30 percent, and the PCK refinery in Schwedt is another candidate for nationalization. Will Altmaier’s much-criticized proposal of the past, the establishment of a “national participation facility”, now become reality bit by bit?
New appointments in the Ministry of Economic Affairs
The Ministry of Economics did not want to comment on Tuesday’s request. In view of the new tasks, however, there is already a lot of restructuring going on within the ministry. The former head of Department I for Economic Policy, Philipp Steinberg, has headed the newly created Department for Energy Security and Economic Stabilization (WE) since October.
The departments for participations and corporate aid from other departments will be brought together in the new one. As announced by ministry circles on Monday, Steinberg’s previous position will be taken over by economist Elga Bartsch, who headed economics and capital market research at asset manager Blackrock in London until the summer and previously worked for Morgan Stanley.
Bartsch convinced Habeck, among other things, with her work on the economic consequences of climate change. There is talk of a new fundamental economic department. The areas of competition and structural policy are to be strengthened, positions are to be relocated from the European department to Bartsch. The changes were preceded by the merging of two central departments, which freed up a managerial position. Bartsch still has to be confirmed by the cabinet.
More skills for KfW?
The parliamentary groups are closely following where the state no longer only sets the regulatory framework, but also becomes an entrepreneur. Opinions differ on whether a state holding company is necessary. “The growing number of federal investments requires professional management,” says the economic policy spokesman for the SPD, Bernd Westphal.
In principle, the Chancellery, Economics and Finance Ministries could coordinate the strategic orientation of companies, investments and participations well. “But we also need more skills for KfW,” says Westphal. Securing the energy supply is something different than the corona-related and temporary entry into Lufthansa. Dieter Janecek from the Greens sees things a little differently: “Uniper and Sefe are about crisis-related state investments.
The shares will be held as long as it is necessary to ensure the energy supply in Germany.” The FDP economic politician Reinhard Houben warned against expanding the role of KfW. The state bank is “primarily a federal financing instrument”. Anything else would harbor the “danger of a stronger consolidation of holdings”.