New agency to keep watchful eye on gas prices | News | DW | 02.05.2012
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New agency to keep watchful eye on gas prices

A new department at the German Federal Cartel Office has been approved by the cabinet that would closely monitor fluctuations in gas prices to look for signs of price manipulation. Not everyone is convinced it will help.

The German cabinet announced measures on Wednesday that are meant to keep an eye on high fluctuation in gas prices. The plan would require Germany's 14,700 gas stations to give detailed information regarding changes in the price of gas as well as the price at which they purchased the gas from suppliers.

The government hopes to control abuse of gas prices, and hopes that by having detailed information it can spot irregularities sooner.

Oil industry representatives are against the measure, saying it creates a "bureaucratic monster."

Economics minister Philipp Rösler brushed aside this allegation.

"Of course I'm interested in protecting the economy as much as possible from unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles," he said, adding that the ups and downs of the gas prices were not comprehensible. "That's why we want to improve transparency and competition."

The head of the Association of the German Petroleum Industry, Klaus Picard, said in a statement on the association's website that the proposed administration would "not change a thing about the fact that gas prices are going up because oil prices are going up."

Clamping down or campaigning?

Monitoring of gas prices is meant to be administered by the Federal Cartel Office. Keeping tabs on prices is meant to make it easier for officials at the cartel office to discover abusive behaviors of the oil companies.

For consumers, a new Internet platform would enable them to directly compare prices of gas stations. Information regarding buying and selling prices would be provided once a week by the oil companies, but this would not be shared with the public.

Germany's automobile association, the ADAC, said the bill was "a step in the right direction" in achieving more transparency in the oil industry. But the Auto Club Europa, another German car association, saw the move as an "election maneuver."

Two states in Germany will hold elections on May 13, with the current federal coalition partners, the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats, facing the prospect of losing ground in two more states in what has been a difficult year politically.

Hans-Josef Fell, the Green party's energy policy spokesman in parliament, was also against the measure.

"Instead of finally going after a policy that takes us away from petroleum," he said, "the government has significantly increased bureaucracy with this new department."

Now that the bill has cleared the cabinet, it must be approved by both chambers of the German parliament. This could happen by the end of the year. In addition to monitoring gas prices, the cost of energy and natural gas would be watched over in a similar fashion. The price monitoring is in accordance with European Union standards.

mz/tj (dpa, dapd, AFP, Reuters)