Der Tagesspiegel believes German outrage over GM’s decision not to sell Opel needs to be put in transatlantic perspective. "/> Der Tagesspiegel believes German outrage over GM’s decision not to sell Opel needs to be put in transatlantic perspective. " />
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Opel is not the world

International solidarity among autoworkers? Malte Lehming from Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel believes German outrage over GM’s decision not to sell Opel needs to be put in transatlantic perspective.

Opel is not the world
Photo: DPA

In 1958, East Germany’s communist leader Walter Ulbricht unveiled the “Ten Commandments of Socialist Morality and Ethics.” Referencing the biblical originals, the precepts were supposed to ease East Germans into atheism. The first of the new communist commandments ordered: “You shall support the international solidarity of workers as well as the steadfast bond between all socialist countries.”

But after US carmaker General Motors reneged on its agreement to sell its German unit Opel, it’s become apparent that Germany’s leftists would rather follow an 11th commandment: “Proletariat of the world, we don’t give a damn about you. We will never again sing ‘The Internationale,’ the song of the socialist workers movement. And we merrily spit on solidarity with workers beyond our borders.”

That’s partly a function of how unanimous the outrage in Germany has been following General Motors’ surprising decision not to sell Opel to the Canadian auto parts firm Magna.

Economy Minister Rainer Brüderle from Germany’s pro-business Free Democrats immediately cried foul: “Treating employees like this eight weeks before Christmas is absolutely inacceptable.” And the conservative Christian Democratic state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Rüttgers, was equally outraged: “The behaviour of General Motors shows the ugly face of turbo capitalism.” Both sound no different than the railing of German worker councils, Social Democrats and members of the socialist party The Left. The monotone nationalist struggle to keep jobs in Germany has made the right and left thick as thieves.

The fact that Opel’s thousands of autoworkers in Britain, Spain, Belgium and Poland would probably suffer the most was ignored – and therefore approved – during the German love affair with the Magna consortium. Why should Klaus in Rüsselsheim care about jobs at Vauxhall? Nationalist self-interest always resurfaces during economic crises and in Germany it has been gaining steam with the help of the country’s trade unions. Marx, Engels and Rosa Luxemburg must be turning in their graves.

Of course, it’s not like this is anything new. It’s just that the Opel debate has sparked a general “Germany-first” trend. Just a year ago, in early November 2008, Deutsche Post – still about one-third owned by the German state – axed some 15,000 jobs in the United States. The company did a miserable job managing its DHL subsidiary, which won tax cuts and subsidies of $422 million from American taxpayers in 2004. The small town of Wilmington in Ohio was especially hard hit. The unemployment rate there was already alarming high and almost every family relied on DHL to put food on the table.

At the time, one of those standing at the edge of the abyss asked in despair: “Doesn’t your chancellor worry about the effect on German-American relations if there’s the impression that Deutsche Post is destroying the lives of lots of people in the heart of America?” But the chancellor cared as much as the rest of Germany. A German company firing Americans? What’s the problem? It only becomes an issue when it goes the other way.

So here’s an idea – since there is no longer any international solidarity, maybe there should at least be international equality. If General Motors lays off 10,000 workers soon, maybe they should get the same “generous” severance package that the former DHL workers in Wilmington received from Deutsche Post. That would not only be cheap (for GM) but also just from a transatlantic perspective.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

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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. 

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