* Government could present proposals to parliament this week
* Government may acquire stake in Uniper: sources
* Possible Uniper bailout could follow Lufthansa rescue
* Germany fears Lehman moment for energy firms
BERLIN, July 4 (Reuters) - Germany's government will have
the power to take stakes in utilities and impose emergency
levies on consumers under proposed legal changes now under
discussion, three sources told Reuters, as Berlin moves to beef
up energy security.
Ministers are scrambling to deal with the impact of soaring
energy prices on electricity firms after Russia's invasion of
Ukraine, with Economy Minister Robert Habeck recently warning of
"a Lehman effect" as suppliers face soaring costs to meet
obligations to customers.
Officials have been talking to Uniper, the largest
buyer of Russian gas in Germany, about a bailout, and the
sources said Berlin wants to ensure similar rescue measures are
available for other companies if required.
Uniper said last week it was discussing possible guarantees,
raising credit facilities or even the state taking an equity
The sources told Reuters the government might take a stake
in Uniper as a last resort, and was preparing possible rescue
measures of similar companies through amendments to its energy
security law. Uniper declined immediate comment.
Amendments to the law are currently being discussed among
government ministries and could be presented to parliament on
They may also allow the government to quickly impose a
special levy on consumers as a means of passing on soaring
energy costs equitably, the government sources said.
A possible bailout for Uniper could be modeled after
pandemic relief for airline Lufthansa, which was saved
from bankruptcy during the coronavirus pandemic with a 9 billion
euro ($9.40 billion) aid package, one German government source
"The federal government should be given options along the
lines of the Lufthansa aid," the source said.
Lufthansa's bailout saw the state taking a 20% stake in the
airline through an Economic Stabilization Fund, but without
being able to exercise shareholder voting rights.
The airline was not allowed to take over other companies
until 75% of the state aid had been repaid, and its shareholders
and managers could not benefit from taxpayers' money, meaning
dividends and bonus payments were put on hold.
Decades after de-regulating their energy markets,
governments across Europe are intervening to prop up utility
companies buckling under sky-high prices, while also protecting
consumers from soaring costs.
Several European energy suppliers have gone bust over the
past year, where they have had long-term contracts with
customers and have been unable to pass on the swift spike in
To try to shield consumers from soaring energy bills,
governments have also turned to windfall taxes on oil and gas
companies, subsidies and discounts.
Russia is Germany's top supplier of gas, making it more
exposed than other European states to an economic war with
Soaring prices have heaped political pressure on Chancellor
Olaf Scholz, who on Monday will meet unions and employers to try
to build a consensus on fighting inflation, reviving a concept
established in 1967 in response to economic recession that ended
the country's post-war boom.
Germany has accused Russia of strangling the flow of energy
to Europe through spurious pretexts in revenge for sanctions
over the Ukraine war, and is closely watching whether flows will
resume after scheduled maintenance July 11-21.
Russia has denied doing so, and said it was a reliable
energy supplier that honours its contracts. Uniper said it was
receiving around 40% of the normal amount of gas from Russia at
The benchmark Dutch front-month gas price rose
more than 8% on Monday to a peak of 160 euros per megawatt hour,
its highest level since March 9. The price remains below a
record but is still 500% higher than this time last year.
Germany's government has warned of possible energy shortages
and rationing in the winter months if it cannot fill its gas
storage quickly enough.
"The hope of filling the gas storage facilities to some
extent by winter could be torpedoed by Russia at any time. Then
there are hardly any compensatory possibilities left," said a
note from Sentix that tracks investor morale in the euro zone.
"In Germany, some ideological boundaries have to be crossed
to prevent a "Lehman moment" in the energy sector," it said,
referencing the U.S. bank whose demise help triggered the 2008
($1 = 0.9573 euros)
(Reporting by Markus Wacket; Additional reporting by Susanna
Twidale and Paul Carrel; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing
by Kirsti Knolle and Jan Harvey)