From Der Speigel
The audience was small and exclusive, which helps explain why little has emerged thus far of what European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger said at the Hotel Stanhope in Brussels on May 6. It was enough to cause something of a stir among his listeners.
For the European Commission and for Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia, Oettinger said during a dinner event, it is clear that price concessions for energy-intensive companies in Germany amount to an inadmissible subsidy. In the best-case scenario, he said, the Commission would ban such subsidies. But, he added, the worst case could see Brussels demanding that such companies pay back the money they had saved as a result of the discounts they have received.
Competitors and neighboring countries had filed an official complaint about these benefits with the European Commission, prompting the EU competition authority to launch an investigation. The German commissioner had sought to assure industry representatives that the process was only just beginning and that the outcome remained unclear.
That, though, seems to only have been partly accurate, which helps explain the current agitation. The scenario Oettinger outlined at the Brussels dinner is a horrifying one for parts of German industry and for the government in Berlin. The prospect of having to repay several billion euros is certainly a daunting one. Even worse, though, is that the competitiveness of entire industrial sectors would be put at risk. Also at stake is the Renewable Energies Act (EEG), a central component of Berlin’s shift away from nuclear power and toward green energy, also known as the Energiewende.
Since 2000, Germany has used the EEG to promote the expansion of renewable forms of energy. To ensure that the construction of expensive solar and wind farms is worthwhile for private individuals and investors, they receive a guarantee that the electricity they produce will be purchased at a fixed price for a period of several years.