SHARE
COPY LINK

JOBS

The man who would be chancellor: Frank-Walter Steinmeier

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who launched his campaign Monday to unseat German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has won respect as foreign minister but has struggled to galvanise his party for battle.

Merkel’s rival in the September election – who is running for public office for the first time – is the affable but guarded protege of her charismatic Social Democratic predecessor Gerhard Schröder.

The former chancellor made Steinmeier one of his closest advisors during his seven

years in power, and eventually his chief of staff, a job in which he coordinated the security services and shaped the Agenda 2010 package of economic reforms – the unpopular centrepiece of the administration.

He emerged from the shadows after the inconclusive 2005 general election, when Schröder put him forward as his candidate to take over the foreign ministry in negotiations on the formation of a “grand coalition.”

A jurist with a cautious streak, Steinmeier finds it difficult to speak in media-friendly soundbites, preferring measured statements with elliptical German sentences that end far from where they started.

He more resembles a civil servant than a glad-handing politician, and his charm works better in smaller, relaxed contexts where admirers say his dimpled smile and genuine interest in people can be used to the fullest.

“I never intended to become a politician,” Steinmeier told glossy magazine Bunte in a photo spread showcasing the private side of the candidate. “These things just happen sometimes.”

A born diplomat, Steinmeier has found it difficult to hone the killer instincts needed on the campaign trail. His Social Democrats are now trailing Merkel’s conservatives by up to 15 points in opinion polls with less than two months to go until election day. Even supporters admit that taking on the high-flying Merkel may turn into a kamikaze mission on behalf of the party.

Born January 5, 1956, in a small town in Lower Saxony, Steinmeier was known on the football field as an efficient “all-rounder” who could play any position with ease and work well within a team.

The same qualities led Schröder to take him under his wing, first as media advisor when he was premier of Lower Saxony and later as a state secretary at the chancellery until becoming chief of staff in 1999.

He took over the foreign ministry in November 2005 and has had, time and again, to defend his remit against encroachment by Merkel. They clashed openly on Germany’s approach to Russia and China, with Steinmeier warning against alienating either country with too strident criticism.

Steinmeier has also tried to bolster Germany’s “soft power” with an emphasis on cultural diplomacy, frequently inviting painters, musicians and novelists to accompany him on official visits abroad and present the country in a more flattering light.

His profile grew again in 2007 as he became vice-chancellor when a party general, Franz Müntefering, stepped down to care for his ailing wife. Müntefering has since returned to become head of the party. But political scientist Peter Lösche said Steinmeier’s latest incarnation as a candidate was doomed from the start.

“He is not a political campaigner,” Lösche said. “He is very competent in many political areas but he is unable to project that to the outside world.”

Married with a daughter, Steinmeier is protective of his private life although his wife Elke Büdenbender, a judge, has stepped up her public appearances since her husband announced he would stand for office.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

SHOW COMMENTS