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Red Flag: Freeze for the fatherland? Enough is enough!

The government's "relief package" is a joke. While energy companies are making billions, poor people are going to shiver in their apartments.

Is Germany’s €65 billion relief package a handout to energy companies? Photo: IMAGO / Panama Pictures

On Monday evening, 1,000 people gathered in front of the Green Party HQ in Berlin-Mitte. “Genug ist genug” was the motto — a nod to the protest movement currently sweeping the UK, “Enough is enough.” The rally had five simple demands:

  • Down with the Gasumlage (the “contribution” we will all pay to energy companies)
  • Reduce food prices — increase wages and incomes
  • Cap natural gas and electricity prices
  • Tax war profiteers
  • Put the energy sector into public ownership

Germany’s Greens have a program that could be summarised as “Freeze for the Fatherland.” Economics Minister Robert Habeck has been telling everyone to turn down the thermostats and take cold showers.

But even if we shiver this winter, millions of people are still going to be thrown into poverty. Energy costs are exploding, while food and housing are getting more expensive as well. 

But as if that weren’t enough, Habeck passed the Gasumlage: starting on October 1, we are all going to pay this “contribution” to enormous corporations. 2.4 additional cents per kilowatt hour — that’s over €500 per year for an average family.

This is just a massive program of wealth redistribution, from working people to fossil capital around the world

This is supposed to rescue energy companies that can no longer get natural gas from Russia and have to but it elsewhere at much higher prices. This “contribution” is not only going to companies on the verge of collapse — some of the recipients are currently making record profits.

The news magazine DER SPIEGEL explained how the Green minister worked out this law. It was written by the energy companies themselves, with private rating agencies insisting that it had to be paid by consumers. Apparently, no one in the Economics Ministry or in the cabinet bothered to read the text carefully. 

When asked why consumers should be forced to subsidise companies already making billions, a spokesperson for Habeck said: “Our position is that a company has to make a profit.” Now they are trying to back pedal, but the Gasumage remains in place.

Other European countries have already passed the simple measures we need: a cap on energy prices and a tax on the extra profits by these war profiteers. 

But the German government is saying Nein to having capitalists pay for the crisis. Instead, on Sunday, they announced their Third Relief Package. The headline number for the package — €65 billion — sure sounds like a lot. It will include a one-time payment of €300 for pensioners and €200 for students. There will also be a slight increase for Hartz IV, which will be renamed Bürgergeld, although the name is pretty much the only thing which will change. The price of the €9 ticket will be raised to something like €49 or €69.

This winter, we might see even bigger revolts. We could see what activists call a “hot autumn”

With their Gasumlage, the government is handing out checks that won’t even cover the basics. We will get some money, and then immediately hand it over to energy companies. This is just a massive program of wealth redistribution, from working people to fossil capital around the world — including to fossil capital from Russia, which is then financing the brutal war in Ukraine.

The government claims it can’t afford more — and simultaneously is spending €100 billion on new weapons. In this time of “shared sacrifice,” they continue to subsidise cars. They are also planning to keep the “debt brake” in place, which means that any payments for energy costs will be financed with cuts in other sectors.

The bottom line is that we are supposed to pay the costs of the energy crisis. Uniper, a company that we are supposed to bailout with €15 billion, just hosted a “gala dinner” at a luxury villa in Milan. And why not? They certainly have reason to celebrate.

Of course people are angry. Who really wants to freeze for the fatherland? Many were worried that if protests start this fall, they could be captured by the Far Right, who would combine hatred of government policies with pro-Russian and anti-immigrant positions.

So far, the protests have been solidly left-wing. On Monday, there was not just the rally in Berlin, but also a “Monday demonstration” of almost 5,000 in Leipzig. There were rumours that the AfD and other right-wing forces would try to commandeer these mobilisations. But nothing of the sort happened. The AfD is, after all, a party sponsored by billionaires with a deeply anti-social program. The demonstrations, in contrast, called for expropriating the energy companies and putting them under democratic control.

It’s been almost 20 years, since the Monday demonstrations against Hartz IV back in 2004 when Germany has experienced massive social protests. This winter, we might see even bigger revolts. We could see what activists call a “hot autumn” — and that’s exactly what we need to prevent us from freezing.