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Russian gas: the German giant Uniper on the edge of the abyss, are we heading towards a gas crisis in Europe?

  • Post category:Economy News
  • Reading time:4 mins read

In a letter, dated Thursday, the company indicates that it cannot meet its obligations due to circumstances “extraordinary“. Maintenance operations have a good back. It will be necessary to see if the gas pipeline can restart as planned this Thursday or on the contrary if Russian blackmail goes up in the towers.

By opposing force majeure to its customers, the Russian giant, which enjoys a monopoly on national exports by gas pipeline, intends to avoid having to pay compensation for lack of supply.

Russia is therefore using a technical reason as a pretext for not resuming its deliveries and thus putting pressure on Westerners in the context of the war in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia.

Uniper, a giant threatened by bankruptcy

The mail was notably sent to Uniper, the leading importer and storer of gas in Germany. Uniper is more than 11,000 employees, a giant resulting from the split in 2016 of the fossil activities of E.ON, listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, majority owned by a Finnish group and active mainly in Germany and France.

The Gazprom Export subsidiary invokes force majeure with retroactive effect to justify past and present shortcomings in supply. A formulation that the German company rejects. This news puts her in a very bad position. With the continued Russian gas supply disruptions, Uniper lost a lot of money. To honor its delivery contracts, the company had to buy gas on the market where prices exploded.

And so the group loses “tens of millions of euros“every day, had recently warned its CEO, Klaus-Dieter Maubach. To deal with the most urgent, Uniper asked to be bailed out by the public authorities. It has already received a line of credit of 2 billion euros from the public bank German company KfW, but this advance is now exhausted.Discussions are continuing with a view to the State entering the capital with 25 or even 30% of the capital.

But negotiations are stuck between the German government and Uniper’s majority shareholder, Fortum, which is approximately 51% owned by the Finnish state. Berlin would like Fortum to participate in the bailout too, but Fortum says it has already extended 8 billion euros and the Finns prefer a restructuring to place the risky activities in a company owned by the German government. A decision is expected before the end of the month. The days to come will be decisive.

Will it be necessary to save the gas suppliers, as the banks had been after the financial crisis of 2008? If Uniper were precipitated into bankruptcy, there are fears in Germany of cascading bankruptcies comparable to a “Lehman Brothers” of energy. A catastrophe for Germany with perhaps repercussions at European level.

Europe tries to stock and find suppliers other than Russia

The Uniper saga is probably just the tip of the iceberg. Europe’s entire gas supply is held hostage. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has encouraged European countries to “do everything” to reduce their gas consumption in order to avoid a “harsh winter“.

First track: the gas delivered but not consumed could thus be stored for the next few months. “If action is not taken now, Europe will find itself in a vulnerable position and will soon be forced to impose drastic cuts“, warned the director of the Agency, Fatih Birol, who underlined the need for solidarity between European countries to face the energy crisis.

Starting tomorrow, Wednesday, the European Commission will unveil its agenda for getting out of the energy crisis. We can expect a fairly restrictive mechanism for reducing consumption: the Commission will propose the quotas, the Member States will decide to apply them by qualified majority.