German Public Broadcasting ‘Tax’ Faces Costitutional Challenge

Our partner Dr. Oliver von Schweinitz was quoted in Bloomberg’s BNA International Tax Monitor on the German public broadcasting ‘tax’ (GEZ) facing constitutional challenge.

Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court is considering the legality of a controversial financing scheme – styled like a tax – to support public broacasters.

Businesses would realize millions in savings if the mandatory fee – which applies to households, businesses and motor vehicles, irrespective of whether taxpayers have a broadcast-ready device – is overturned by the court.

Should that justice rule that the levy, essentially a tax, many argue, is unconstitutional and demand that lawmakers reform the scheme, businesses could see their costs significantly reduced. Such a ruling would save them from having to pay seperate contributions for every physical location and vehicle in their stocks, payments that can amount to millions in extra costs for larger firms each year.

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“The way it is structured is too close to a tax at this point because you’re being levied even if you have no TV or radio,” Oliver von Schweinitz, a partner with GGV law firm in Hamburg, told Bloomberg Tax May 16.

‘Wilder for Businesses’

The government took in about $9 billion in 2016 from the levy, according to the latest data available. The financing scheme “becomes even wilder for business owners,” multinational car rental company Sixt SE, one of four plaintiffs in the current case, said in a position paper, which the ided to Bloomberg Tax. Any business owner “would hae to pay broadcasting fees for his home, his office, his holiday home and also for his delivery van.”

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Flat Fee

Through a series of laws and Constitutional Court decisions beginning in the late 1970s, Germany’s broadcast media split into two distinct groups, according to Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education: public and private.

Public broadcasters are mostly financed by registration fees levied by an independent consortium, known locally as the Beitragsservice, administered by Germany’s two largest broadcasters, ARD and ZDF, and its public radio station, Deutschlandfunk.

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Tax or Fee

Wildly unpopular across the political spectrum, many individuals, political parties, and businesses have sought to challenge the legality of the fee over the years, but courts have always ruled in favor of the importance of a well-financed public broadcasting system.

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Call For Reform

When asked about the constitutionality of the fee, Peter Weber, in-house counsel for ZDF, told Bloomberg Tax in a May 15 email that the flat rate is a “well-functioning model for financing public service broadcasting” that “enables public service broadcasters to fulfill their legal mandate” to provide informational programming.

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Need Reforms

But given that the scope of broadcasters’ programming has extended far past its intended purposes, and that its payment model is a constitutionally problematic, refoms are needed, von Schweinitz said. “If the levy were limited to something like National Public Radio in the United States, then that would be justified,” he said. “But that’s not what they’re doing. They have romance series, and this type of programming is being subsidized to the detriment of private competition.”

“If Germany believes it should have subsidized public information, then let’s finance that through taxes, and not through a highly inefficient and petty monthly contribution that’s separately levied,” he added.

Snapshot:

  • Flat fee on all households, businesses, motor vehicles
  • Plaintiffs say system is unfair

 

To read the complete article see attached PDF.

 

Dr. Oliver von Schweinitz  advises entrepreneurs and companies in Hamburg and Frankfurt on national and international tax law as well as commercial and real estate law. His support also comprises advice on project management..

Subjects: banking regulatory law (dual banking legislation, Dodd Frank Act), commercial and tax laws – also with regards to US law, information exchange laws (QI, FATCA, CRS), private equity, real estate and real estate tax law, the taxation of open and closed-end fund

Office Hamburg, Tel. +49 40 369633-56, schweinitz@gg-v.de