Germany increases antitrust powers after allegedly inflating fuel prices

(Bloomberg) — The German government is giving antitrust regulators greater powers to crack down on price-gouging companies after gas station operators and oil companies were accused of failing to provide subsidies intended to help drivers hit by spiraling costs in the wake of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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According to a document from the German Ministry of Economics, ultimately the regulations to be announced on Wednesday will make it easier for regulatory authorities to recover excessive profits earned by companies.

The reform, which follows a pledge by Economy Minister Robert Habeck, follows suspicions last summer that fuel suppliers may have been overcharging customers, even though the Federal Cartel Office was unable to find clear evidence of any market abuse.

Under the new rules, the antitrust authority will be able to impose measures if it considers that competition in an industry has been distorted, rather than proving that a company has abused a dominant position.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner, who then made it possible to introduce the fuel discount, also expressed his openness to repression. After more than half a year, an agreement was reached and will be approved by the government tomorrow. The change then requires the consent of the Senate, the upper house of the German parliament.

Regulatory authorities will be able to, among other things, facilitate market access, impede mergers and even impose divestments. The ministry said the intervention rights were modeled on similar powers from the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

According to the ministry, companies that have achieved their market position thanks to innovation and technological advantage may, however, be exempt from the new regulations.

–With help from Karin Matussek.

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