Scholz is confident that Germany can weather the energy crisis in the winter

BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz promised that his government will not freeze citizens or be unable to pay their energy bills, but acknowledged on Thursday that his country faces significant challenges in the coming months.

Rising fuel costs resulting from Russia’s war on Ukraine have put a lot of financial pressure on many in Germany and beyond, raising concerns about a possible winter of discontent.

“We will do everything we can to help citizens through this difficult time,” Scholz told reporters at his annual summer press conference in Berlin.

He cited numerous measures the government has already taken to alleviate the financial hardship for residents and to secure alternative energy supplies to replace Russian oil, coal and gas.

Asked if he feared frustration could turn into violent protests, Scholz replied: “I don’t believe there will be unrest… in this country.” He mentioned Germany’s strong tradition of social welfare.

But the chancellor acknowledged there would be “many demands” during the winter as the country tries to reconcile energy shortages with long-standing plans to phase out nuclear power and the use of fossil fuels.

The German government has given utilities the green light to reopen closed oil and coal plants as part of efforts to reduce the country’s reliance on Russian natural gas.

Scholz said the government is also considering extending the lifetimes of the country’s three remaining nuclear plants beyond the end of the year, even as it is taking steps to massively ramp up renewable energy generation in the short and medium term.

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“The most important thing we can do to achieve (energy) sovereignty in the future while doing what is necessary for our economic future is expanding renewable energy and protecting the climate,” he said.

Scholz seemed to recognize that Germany’s past reliance on Russian energy — long criticized by allies such as the United States — had been a mistake and that the country should have diversified its supplies sooner.

He declined to say whether he personally regretted Germany’s continued purchase of Russian gas and whether it gave Berlin a greater responsibility to support Ukraine in defending against Russian military attack.

Scholz also remained silent when asked about his role in a large-scale tax evasion scam when he was mayor of Hamburg.

Questions about meetings he had with private bank MM Warburg in 2016 and 2017 continued to haunt Scholz. Hamburg officials later dropped demands for the bank to refund millions of euros in tax refunds it falsely claimed for stock transactions.

Dozens of bankers are being investigated in connection with so-called cum-ex share transactions that would have cost the German state billions.

Scholz has previously denied doing anything and claimed not to remember any details of his meetings with Warburg officials.

Thorsten Frei, a leading lawmaker at Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, said recent revelations about 200,000 euros in cash found in a safe deposit box belonging to a close Social Democratic Party associate of Scholz raised further questions about the cum-ex. -affair.

“Olaf Scholz needs to explain himself,” Frei said in an interview published Thursday by the German media group RND.

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When repeatedly asked about the issue on Thursday, Scholz said he had not spoken to party colleague Johannes Kahrs and was not aware of the origin of the money.

“I’m as curious as you are,” he said.


Kirsten Grieshaber contributed to this report.

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