Berlin nationalizes energy company Uniper, overwhelmed by the gas crisis

A Uniper employee, in Bierwang, Bavaria, on June 10, 2022.

Germany will finally nationalize its "Lehman Brothers" energy. The Uniper group, until recently Europe's leading importer of Russian gas, and considered to be of systemic importance for energy supply across the Rhine, is to be 99% bought out by Berlin. This rescue, announced by the Ministry of the Economy on Wednesday, September 21, is emblematic of the dramatic energy poverty in which Germany finds itself since the cessation of gas deliveries by Russia in early September.

"Uniper's situation has deteriorated considerably", declared the Minister of the Economy, Robert Habeck, on Wednesday morning, to justify the nationalization of the energy company, an exceptional measure in a country traditionally attached to the free functioning of the market.

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Uniper is majority owned by the Finnish group Fortum, which long negotiated its ruinous exit with the German government. Two figures suffice to understand why Berlin has been forced to this extreme: Uniper today provides 40% of the country's supply of gas, an essential fuel for heating households and running many industries, and 50% of this gas was imported from gas fields in Siberia.

Caught in a vice

Caught between long-term contracts with its customers and the obligation to obtain supplies at exorbitant prices on the world markets to replace the gas not delivered by Moscow, Uniper is currently losing 100 million euros a day. The government had already come to its rescue, at the end of July, by acquiring 30% of the capital of the group, in addition to loans amounting to 13 billion euros.

With Moscow completely halting deliveries, it became increasingly clear that this bailout would be insufficient to prevent Uniper from going bankrupt. The device announced Wednesday morning includes a capital increase financed by the State, to the tune of 8 billion euros, the repurchase of the shares of Fortum, for 480 million euros, as well as the assumption of a credit of total amount of 8 billion euros owed by the group to Fortum.

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Singular destiny than that of Uniper, born less than ten years ago, in 2016, from the split with the German energy company E.ON. The idea was then to separate activities related to energy "traditional"mainly coal and gas, which are expected to decline slowly, activities in renewables and energy services, the future of which was considered more promising.

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