New head of the Federal Network Agency: Klaus Müller should help electricity and gas customers

Germany’s top consumer advocate, Klaus Müller, is to become head of the Federal Network Agency in the future. The personnel, previously reported by “Tagesspiegel Background Energie”, was confirmed in government circles on Thursday. It makes it clear that consumer protection will play a stronger role in future in the regulatory authority that monitors the energy, telecommunications, postal and rail sectors. In times of rising electricity prices, unilateral cancellations of energy contracts and recurring problems with the Internet supply, Müller’s appointment is a clear signal in this respect from the new governing coalition of SPD, Greens and FDP.

From consumer advocate to senior regulator

Müller is currently the board member of the Federal Association of Consumer Centers (VZBV). The 50-year-old not only has many years of experience in consumer protection, but also a political career. The economist sat in the Bundestag for the Greens from 1998 to 2000 and was their financial policy spokesman before SPD Prime Minister Heide Simonis lured him to Schleswig-Holstein as Minister for the Environment. When the coalition there broke up in 2005, the designated president of the Federal Network Agency moved to the board of directors of the North Rhine-Westphalia consumer advice center and finally in 2014 to the federal headquarters in Berlin.

Shock: Above all, anyone who concludes a new contract now needs deep into the pocket.Photo: imago/blickwinkel

On March 1, he is to replace the FDP man Jochen Homann at the regulatory authority. “Klaus Müller is very profiled, very structured and very well connected,” said the chairman of the board of directors of the VZBV, Wolfgang Schuldzinski, the daily mirror.

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After the success of the Greens in the federal elections, many had expected Müller to return to politics, for example as State Secretary. At the head of the Federal Network Agency, however, the consumer advocate would be at the helm when it comes to network regulation, infrastructure expansion and competition between network operators.

The authority is also of particular importance in the debate about the controversial North Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline. According to the Russian energy giant Gazprom, the pipeline that runs from Russia to Germany is ready to go. However, it is not yet operational. Certification by the Federal Network Agency is still pending.

Two ministers had to agree

The traffic light coalition has long been difficult with the successor decision in the regulatory authority. This was also because the personnel decision had two ministers from two parties. The telecommunications area has been hiked by the government change by the Economic Ministry of Transport. The supervision of the network agency now share the traffic and the Minister of Economics. Volker Wissing (FDP) is responsible for the telecommunications and the railway sector, Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) for the energy sector and the post office. The Green Bundestag MP Ingrid Nestle said shortly before the end of personal reasons. Temporarily, a division of the authority had threatened. That’s from the table.

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The right to nominate the top authorities officially lies with the advisory board made up of representatives from the federal and state governments, which will meet on Monday for a regular meeting. The federal government must then agree before the Federal President appoints Müller. In the coalition negotiations with the SPD and FDP, the Greens had secured the right to propose the post.

Müller has defied VW

Müller has acted very successfully as a consumer advocate. Clear on the matter, authoritative in tone, he has made good contacts in politics. With the model declaratory action in the diesel scandal, he stood up to the Volkswagen group and got a comparison in favor of the VW drivers. Born in Wuppertal, he made a name for himself as the voice of consumers, but of course he didn’t just make friends in this role. In the debate about the return on equity for the electricity, gas and hydrogen networks, he repeatedly called for moderation in the interests of network users. The alarm bells went off in the ranks of the network operators when the personnel rumor first made the rounds.

He’s leaving: Jochen Homann’s term of office as President of the Federal Network Agency ends at the end of February.Photo: Kai-Uwe Heinrich

But even more objective observers see a certain political signal in the election of Homann’s successor – more than would have been the case with a deserving State Secretary. The topic of consumer protection should be given more weight in the Federal Network Agency in the future. The statements made by Economics Minister Robert Habeck, who announced more regulation in favor of consumers in the “Handelsblatt” a few days ago, matched this.

Economics Minister Habeck criticizes distortions in electricity and gas

“I don’t want to hide the fact that we have to look at how the heavily liberalized electricity and gas market will be set up in the future,” said the minister. “The fact that people in good faith that they have received a cheap offer now find themselves in the more expensive basic service tariff cannot simply remain without consequences.” The speculation of low-cost providers is not a resilient business model. At least more transparency is needed here.

On the back burner: gas is becoming more and more expensive. Many try to save energy.Photo: Karl-Josef Hildenbrand / DPA

The fact that the Federal Network Agency is increasingly responsible for consumer protection issues is also due to new laws. With the new Telecommunications Act, the network agency’s arbitration board was given additional tasks in the area of ​​consumer protection. Since the law came into force in December, consumers have new rights in telephone, internet and mobile phone contracts. The most important changes include shorter notice periods for automatic contract extensions, a right to a reduction in the case of non-delivery Bandwidths and compensation payments in the event of telephone and internet failures and missed technician appointments. In the event of disputes with the provider, the arbitration board of the regulatory authority will seek a joint solution.

Who will be the new top consumer advocate?

A successor must now be found at the VZBV. VZBV Chairman of the Board of Directors Wolfgang Schuldzinski does not expect this personnel issue to be decided before Müller’s change on March 1st. “We will initially work with an interim board,” said the head of VZ NRW to the Tagesspiegel. The Board of Directors will hold an extraordinary meeting on Monday.