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Germany looks to ensure gas levy helps only companies that need it

·2-min read
Nuclear power plant Isar 2 in Eschenbach near Landshut

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Friday that it was "more than unsatisfactory" that profitable firms could access funds raised from a gas levy imposed on consumers aimed at helping troubled firms and that he was looking at ways to change it.

A growing chorus of politicians from parties in the ruling coalition have called for revisions to the levy, taking aim at the prospect of healthy gas importers gaining support, not just ailing companies like Uniper.

"We're working to make sure that companies that have their own profit margins - those who don't need the solidarity - to force them out or make it hard for them to have access," Habeck said at a news conference at a charging infrastructure centre.

However, abolishing the levy is not an alternative, said Habeck, adding that his overriding concern was to ensure the security of energy supply and that any changes must be legally sound.

The German gas market operator Trading Hub Europe (THE) earlier this month set the charge, to be imposed from Oct. 1 through to March 2024, to keep utility companies liquid enough to maintain an intact gas market.

The average German household will see their energy bill rise by several hundred euros a year due to the levy, which is also aimed at ensuring costs are divided fairly among consumers.

Uniper, which received a 15 billion euro state bailout, and the former Gazprom Germania are set to receive more than 90% of the funds collected under the levy.

A government spokesperson said on Friday that Chancellor Olaf Scholz supported the levy, but added: "Questions are being asked that are fully justified: do companies benefit from it that would not need it?"

"In principle, the chancellor is still in favour of adopting very targeted instruments."

(Reporting by Paul Carrel and Miranda Murray; Editing by Hugh Lawson)