Exclusive-Germany aims to speed Rosneft’s exit from Schwedt refinery

By Markus Wacket and Riham Alkousaa

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany plans to change its Energy Security Act to allow a quick sale of Russian energy group Rosneft’s stake in the Schwedt refinery without the need for prior nationalisation, a draft law showed, as Berlin strives to stabilise a key energy supplier.

Under the planned adjustment to the law, the condition of prior nationalisation of assets put under government trusteeship could be withdrawn if the sale of the assets is needed to ensure that Germany’s energy sector remains functional, the draft law, seen by Reuters on Thursday, showed.

Germany took control of the Schwedt refinery last year in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and put Rosneft Deutschland under a trusteeship of the German industry regulator, but Rosneft still holds 54.17% of the refinery.

The Russian state energy giant sued the German government in October over its actions.

Malmendier Legal, the law firm hired by Rosneft, said the German government must be careful not to blow up the current version of the Energy Security Act.

“When the trust administration does not work or is legally shaky, the government resorts to the next invention beyond the principles of the rule of law,” lawyer Bertrand Malmendier at Malmendier Legal told Reuters.

Malmendier said since the nationalisation of Gazprom Germania has already “ended in a fiasco”, Germany will not want to want to repeat this in Schwedt.

Other shareholders in the refinery, which supplies 90% of the German capital Berlin’s fuel, include oil majors Shell, with a 37.5% stake, and Eni, with 8.33%.

The planned adjustment, drafted by economy ministry and being voted on by the cabinet, gives the government more leeway to transfer assets put under trusteeship. Such transfers are currently only legally possible if they serve to preserve the value of the company.

With the European Union embargo on Russian oil, which went into force earlier this month, Germany has been trying to find ways to supply the refinery with oil.

The refinery has been running at only 60% capacity with oil coming through the German port of Rostock, and the government wants to raise that by supplying the refinery with crude imported through the Polish port of Gdansk.

Poland has repeatedly said the “de-rusification of Schwedt” was a condition for help in providing oil for the refinery, while encouraging Polish utility Orlen to take a stake in Schwedt.

“The fact that the German government is allowing itself to be blackmailed by Poland on this issue, or is even colluding with Poland against the current majority owner of the refinery, has been observed for already some time,” Malmendier said.

German companies such as Enertrag and Verbio are also interested in taking a stake in Schwedt, which has over 3,000 direct and indirect employees and plays a central role in supplying East Germany with gasoline and other oil products.

The Brandenburg state government is concerned that low output from the refinery could lead to higher fuel prices in eastern Germany. The state government is due to meet with the federal economy ministry expert committee on the refinery on Monday to discuss possible solutions.

(Reporting by Markus Wacket, additional reporting by Riham AlkousaaWriting by Riham Alkousaa Editing by Susan Fenton, Mark Potter, Kirsten Donovan)