Greece tells Germans fearing huge heating bills to ‘come here for winter’

19 07 2022 | 12:06Kate Connolly

Greece’s tourism minister has sent an invitation to German pensioners wanting to escape astronomical heating bills and other high living costs this coming winter, urging them to see his country as an attractive alternative.

With gas bills already having doubled in Germany and expected to rise to around seven times the level they were a year ago, Vasilis Kikilias has said Greece offers the promise of warmth, hospitality and lower grocery and restaurant prices.

“In the autumn and winter it would bring us great joy to welcome German pensioners who wish to experience a Mediterranean winter, with Greek hospitality, mild weather and a high level of service,” Kikilias told Germany’s largest selling tabloid, Bild, as he launched his appeal, adding: “We will be waiting for you.”

He compared the gesture to offering asylum and described it as a way of thanking German taxpayers who he said had helped bail out Greeks from the financial crisis of 2008.

Mayors from across Greece have joined the appeal. Panagiotis Simandirakis, mayor of the port city of Chania on Crete, said that the island offered arguably the best conditions – only two months of what is normally an extremely mild winter compared with Germany’s – to enable people to “survive the crisis winter”. He said costs for everything from rent to a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread in Crete are a fraction of what they are in Germany.

Cynics might choose to interpret Kiklias’s invitation as little more than a marketing ploy aimed at boosting the Greek tourism industry after several years of a disastrous pandemic-induced slump.

But pensioner interest groups on Thursday were welcoming the idea as a constructive answer to what otherwise looks like adding up to a tough winter, in particular for low-income households already braving an 8% inflation rate.

“It’s quite a useful suggestion, especially if it might end up costing less than staying at home,” said Petra Schneider, a pensioner from Cologne. “But I will have to do some sums on an envelope to see if it adds up.”

The association of German travel agents VUSR already suggested in May that the government might find it cheaper in the long run to subsidise holidays to warmer places to the tune of about €500 a person in order to help households save on the gas bill and to preserve their health.

Opposition politicians have said the idea has to be treated with caution, not least because it could have a negative effect on Germany’s economy.

In a survey carried out by the pollster Civey, two-thirds of Germans have said they fear gas shortages this winter.

Germany has been on tenterhooks since annual maintenance work on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, which brings the majority of German gas from Russia via the Baltic Sea to Germany, began on Monday. There are concerns that Gazprom, the Russian company which runs the pipeline, might use apparent glitches in the works as a pretext for not turning the gas supplies on again.

Municipalities have been laying out their plans for how to cut energy, in particular how to stop gas being used for producing electricity, so that supplies of it can be stocked up as much as possible to enable Germany to get through the winter.

Ideas include reducing the heat in municipal swimming pools, turning off street and traffic lights, and switching off decorative lighting on official buildings, such as Berlin’s monumental Brandenburg Gate. “Warm rooms” or “warmth islands” – industrial-scale spaces containing beds in which those on lower incomes would have the opportunity to keep warm at authorities’ cost rather than their own – are also being discussed.

On Thursday, gas storage facilities were said by Germany’s Federal Network Agency to be about 65%. The goal is for storage facilities to be up to 90% by 1 November.

Meanwhile, the German government is under intense pressure as Europe’s largest economy to speed up its widely acclaimed energy transition programme towards renewables and away from fossil fuels, with the added urgency now to increase its independence from Russian gas.

It has said this week it is bringing forward by a year to 2024 a cutoff date beyond which new gas heaters will only be able to be installed if a house’s heating system operates on at least 65% of renewable energy. It is supporting a drive for the installation of heat pumps but heating engineers say there is a lack of pumps or people qualified to install them.

 in Berlin

Greece tells Germans fearing huge heating bills to ‘come here for winter’