• Germany's news in English
 
expat_finances
Are Germans right to fear limit on cash payments?
Photo: DPA

Are Germans right to fear limit on cash payments?

Jörg Luyken · 12 Feb 2016, 09:43

Published: 12 Feb 2016 09:43 GMT+01:00

When it was announced late last week that the German government planned to set a €5,000 limit on payments with cash, it barely raised an eyebrow in our newsroom.

Limits on cash transactions are standard in other large European countries, including Italy, France and the UK, and this seemed to be a case of conservative Germany slowly falling in line with its neighbours.

We should have known better.

The outcry came from all quarters, with the populist right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) just as vocal as the right-on left-wing Green Party and the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP).

Economic weekly WirtschaftsWoche made the plans the cover story on Friday's edition, titled "Save cash!".

And an article in highly regarded broadsheet the Süddeutsche Zeitung suggested the move was nothing less than a step in the direction of totalitarianism.

The immediate suspicion was that - far from being aimed at preventing terrorism and organized crime as the government professed - the move was meant to help the state pry into the smallest minutiae of Germans’ lives.

“The argument, so beloved after 9/11, that it’s a way of combating terrorism is ridiculous and has no basis in scientific proof,” data protection expert Christoph Schäfer told The Local.

“The real winners of the cash limit are the control freaks in internal revenue who want as much transparency from citizens as possible. They could justify it as such but they don’t,” Schäfer argued.

'Where does it end?'

It is clear that Germans put a high value on individual liberty.

CCTV is much more closely controlled than in Britain.

Successive governments meanwhile have repeatedly attempted to pass a law enabling mobile phone companies to save call details. Two versions have been shot down by the highest court in the land. A third has passed into law but is yet to face the constitutional judges.

This prizing of freedom, combined with a deeply ingrained thriftiness, meant that imposing a limit on hard currency was like playing with matches around a powder keg for German leaders.

Polls consistently show that Germans prefer cash to cards - even if attitudes are slowly shifting - with people feeling they can keep a better overview of their expenses, and they can keep their shopping list away from the government and companies’ prying eyes.

“The limit of €5,000 on cash payments won’t infringe on the freedom of normal citizens - but it is the first step,” Schäfer says.

“Most probably after its implementation they’ll decide €5,000 is still too much. Wouldn't it be better to put it at €1,000 - and what about when that’s still too much?

“It’s about protecting liberty - because that’s what paying with cash is. Does every piece of chewing gum bought need to be counted? I don’t think so.”

Security vs. liberty

This fervent defence of the coin and note is apparent to any Anglophone living in the Bundesrepublik - and can often be infuriating.

Whereas in London it’s now possible to go about your everyday life these days by lazily brushing your bank card against a contactless sensor, in Berlin and every other German city one has to be careful to have cash in the pocket at all times - if not the likelihood of embarrassment is high.

It is still unusual to find cafes and restaurants which accept card payments - even some shops don’t.

Story continues below…

But for Schäfer the annoyance is well outweighed by the benefit.

“Should our rights be compromised only because there are a few criminals around?” he asks.

“Freedom must be weighed against liberty. In some states they lean to the side of a felt security. But in Germany liberty is a basic value - and that’s what this is about.”

Advocates of limiting cash payments say it will act as a barrier not only against terrorism, but also cash-in-hand work, tax avoidance and drug dealing.

But, with the public so suspicious of their motives, it is hard to get these people to speak openly.

One economist told The Local he no longer wanted to comment on the issue due to the amount of threatening mail he had received for previously voicing his view on the matter.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jörg Luyken (joerg.luyken@thelocal.com)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
President who pioneered Moscow ties dies aged 97
Former Cold War President of West Germany Walter Scheel. Photo: DPA.

Former West German president Walter Scheel, who helped pave the way for his country's rapprochement with the communist East, has died aged 97, his party's spokesman said on Wednesday.

Former East to lag behind West for years to come: study
Poverty in eastern Germany. File photo: DPA

Eastern Germany remains economically anaemic with little prospect of catching up with the rest of the country by 2030, a study published on Wednesday said.

Turkey's spy network in Germany 'thicker than Stasi's'
Photo: DPA.

Turkey has around 6,000 informants working in Germany, which experts say means they're each monitoring more people than the Stasi did in West Germany during the Cold War.

Germany's first 'intelligent' bridge to open in Nuremberg
File photo: DPA

An €11 million bridge, which is nearing completion in northern Bavaria, is set to include technology never seen before on the German Autobahn.

Stockpile food in case of attack, Germany tells citizens
Photo: DPA

Germany on Wednesday urged its population to stockpile food and water in case of terrorist or cyber attacks, as it adopted its first civil defence strategy since the end of the Cold War.

Ten injured after freight train crashes into bus in Osnabrück
The crash site in Osnabrück. Photo: DPA

A freight train crashed into a bus in Osnabrück on Wednesday morning, leaving several people badly injured, local media report.

Man wins ten-year court battle over €2.50 surcharge
Photo: DPA

An Austrian man has won a ten year court battle over an extra €2.50 he was asked to pay to get into a swimming pool in Bavaria a decade ago.

In Pictures
Düsseldorf swoons as Prince William comes for royal visit
'Well hello Mr. Prince'. Photo: DPA.

Prince William paid a visit to the Rhineland city of Düsseldorf on Wednesday to celebrate the state of North Rhine-Westphalia's 70th birthday. Here's a look at his royal stay.

Brexit
Frankfurt attempts to charm banks away from London
Frankfurt am Main. Photo: DPA

Germany's finance capital has spotted an opportunity with the Brexit-wary banking beasts of the Square Mile.

How did this bike end up on top of Berlin’s Molecule Man?
A professional climber 'rescuing' the bike hanging from the Molecule Man. Photo: DPA.

Berliners are still scratching their heads over how a bicycle ended up dangling from the capital’s iconic statue.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
What's on in Germany: events for August 2016
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
8,582
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd