States agree to reform TV licence fees

Germany’s state premiers have agreed to overhaul the country’s hated GEZ broadcasting licence fees and institute a per-household charge for public television and radio.

States agree to reform TV licence fees
Photo: DPA

The previous system, which required fees for each television set or radio, will be reformed to a flat household rate of €17.98 per month, head of the federal states’ broadcasting commission and Rhineland-Palatinate premier Kurt Beck told reporters on Wednesday evening.

Fees for businesses will be graduated depending on their size.

If all goes according to plan, the states will sign an official agreement in December, and the new rule would go into effect on January 1, 2013, he said, calling the decision a “milestone.”

The Cologne-based GEZ stands for the mouthful Gebühreneinzugszentrale der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, or “Fee-collection Centre of Public Broadcasting Institutions in the Federal Republic of Germany.”

The organisation requires a licence of some 42.5 million owners of televisions, radios and, for the past few years, even computers and mobile phones that access the internet. The fee money funds public broadcasters such as ARD and ZDF, and is often collected by plainclothes officials who go door-to-door busting fee-shirkers.

It’s a difficult task for the organisation’s 1,100 employees, and consumers frequently bring cases against the GEZ to court.

But now there will be a “significant simplification,” relieving families of high fees, Beck said. He also said that while he did not expect complete restructuring within the GEZ, the fee simplification would reduce internal costs.

Baden-Württemberg state premier Stefan Mappus told journalists the new model is simpler, fairer and more transparent.

He said the reform was necessary because televisions and radios are no longer the only relevant devices for using public broadcasting services. Now each household will pay one fee regardless of how many devices it owns, including those that have none. But Mappus said it was likely there were very few device-free households in Germany.

Public broadcasters welcomed the reform.

ARD head Peter Boudgoust said in a statement that the new system would make things “easier and more comprehensible.”

Radio broadcaster Deutschlandradio director Willi Steul said in a statement that the model will create a chance to “raise the acceptance of the broadcaster fee.”

But the pro-business Free Democrats, who had advocated fees for individuals instead of households, were critical of the reform.

The party’s parliamentary group speaker on media Burkhardt Müller-Sönksen said it would endanger jobs and was and “ineffectual development of the current GEZ fees.”

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Germany and France extend Covid tax breaks for cross-border workers

Germany and France have agreed to extend the relaxation of tax rules for cross-border workers until the end of the year.

Cross-border workers commute by car but they can for now continue to work at home
Cross-border workers usually have to commute but can for now continue to work at home.. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

The agreements between France and the governments of Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy avoids double taxation issues for anyone travelling across the French border to or from those countries in order to work.

During the pandemic, tax rules were eased to allow French cross-border employees, like their counterparts in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, to work from home without having to change their tax status.

The deals, which were established at the beginning of the health crisis in March 2020, were due to end on September 30th – and would have plunged cross-border workers still working from home because of the health crisis into renewed uncertainty over their taxes.

The latest extension of these agreements means there’s no confusion over where a cross-border worker pays their taxes until December 31st – for example cross-border workers who work in Geneva but live in France, who normally pay their taxes and social security contributions in Switzerland. 

Under normal circumstances, anyone living in France who works in Switzerland can spend no more than 25 percent of their time working from home. If they exceed this time limit, they would have to pay these tax charges tin France rather than in Switzerland, which would be much higher.

The agreements between France and Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland “provide that days worked at home because of the recommendations and health instructions related to the Covid-19 pandemic may … be considered as days worked in the state where [workers] usually carry out their activity and therefore remain taxable,” according to the statement from the French Employment Ministry.

In the case of Luxembourg, days worked from home because of the health crisis are not counted in usual the 29 day limit.