Germans got a nasty surprise at the pump just before Easter as petrol prices hit their highest point so far this year. Politicians have accused oil companies of collusion in raising prices.
Higher petrol prices just before the Easter holidays were "shameless" according to Transporation Minister Kurt Bodewig
The pre-Easter price rises have become something of a tradition in Germany, but not a beloved one.
This year German motorists watched with annoyance as petrol prices steadily increased in March, then jumped two cents or more just before the Easter holidays began.
Overall a litre of petrol cost 8 cents more at the end of March than it had at the month’s onset.
Oil companies defended the price hikes, saying higher crude prices at the Rotterdam Oil Market had forced them to charge consumers more. A spokeswoman for BP said costs for a litre of petrol had risen 4 cents per litre in March. BP and other oil companies also claimed they had to make up for losses suffered due to higher taxes on petrol in January and February.
That explanation did little to appease Germany’s Transportation Minister Kurt Bodewig. He accused oil companies of deliberately hiking their prices at an opportune time.
"This has nothing to do with higher taxes or higher crude prices" Bodewig wrote in an critical editorial in Germany’s Bild newspaper. "Oil companies know that everyone needs petrol when he’s going on holiday with his family. They’ve used this higher demand for shameless price increases."
Other politicians have expressed similar outrage. Ludwig Stiegler, parliamentary group deputy and member of the ruling SPD party, has suggested passing a law that would forbid oil companies in times of stable oil prices from charging more at the pump during holiday periods.
Anti-Trust Office Might get Involved
Transportation Minister Bodewig has threatened the oil companies with legal action. He wrote that the federal government would investigate the price hikes and determine if illegal price agreements between oil firms break Germany’s anti-trust laws.
But experts are skeptical whether or not the government can prove any illegal price collusion took place or whether the Anti-Trust Office can do anything about it. Even though such price rises have become a regularity in Germany, Rainer Hillgärtner of the Auto Club Europa (ACE) says up to now the Anti-Trust Office has run from the issue "like a toothless tiger."
He says the best offense is for drivers to avoid petrol stations which have raised their prices steeply and suddenly. "That’s the only way to stop these prices spiraling out of control," said the ACE in Stuttgart.
Zwei Zapfhaehne kreuzen sich am Donnerstag, 20. Dezember 2001, an einer Tankstelle in Essen. Das Bundeskartellamt hat die Fusion der Mineraloelkonzerne Shell und DEA beziehungsweise BP und Aral unter Auflagen gebilligt. Kartellamtspraesident Ulf Boege erklaerte am Donnerstag, 20. Dez. 2001, in Bonn, die Konzerne muessten Teile ihrer Tankstellennetze in Deutschland an andere Konkurrenten verkaufen. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) --zu APD4009--
Although oil companies have denied being in collusion or trying to soak drivers. They do say their pricing structures should be clarified. To this end, Rainer Winzenried, spokesman for Shell Oil, has suggested calling a "petrol summit."
The summit would allow oil companies, according to Shell, to explain to the German government and the public how oil companies set their prices.
A representative of the Germany’s Petroleum Oil Industry Association said his group welcomes sensible conversation after the "opportunistic" statements of some politicians.
Crude Oil at Six-Month High
Yesterday crude oil prices stood at their highest levels since September 19th of last year, with a barrel being sold on the New York exchange for $26.88. Dealers fear that the conflict in the Middle East could spill over into other countries and disrupt the flow of oil.
OPEC reported that the average price for its oil also rose last week, with one barrel costing $23.93.
On Monday, a litre of regular petrol in Germany cost an average of 1,03 euro; super 1,05 euro; and diesel 0,84 euro, according to the Auto Club Europa.