Schäuble faces fresh pressure over tax plans

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, already smarting from the resignation of his press spokesman this week, came under pressure Wednesday from strong opposition to his plans to simplify the tax system.

Schäuble faces fresh pressure over tax plans
Photo: DPA

Media reports on Wednesday said Schäuble’s proposals to let people file tax returns every two years, and allow city and local governments to set part of the income tax rates, have both met with sharp opposition from the states.

State governments oppose his plan to allow taxpayer to submit tax returns only every two years instead of each year, the Berliner Zeitung reported.

During talks last week with Schäuble, representatives of the 16 states unanimously rejected the plan, the paper reported. The states complained that the plan would not actually simplify income tax – either for employees or for tax administrators.

Indeed for tax officers around the country it would mean more work, they said. During the meeting it became apparent, according to participants, that Schäuble wasn’t actually planning for a single tax return for each two years to be made possible.

Rather it is expected that people would be given an extension of 12 months to file each return, in the hope that they would get into a two-year rhythm in filing.

The states pointed out that very few people would likely adopt the two-year cycle, since about 18 million of Germany’s 20 million income taxpayers got money back from the Finance Ministry. They would not want to wait two years anyway.

Opposition is also growing to Schäuble’s plan to allow city and local governments to set part of the income tax rate for people living in their municipalities. Lower Saxony Finance Minister Jörg Bode accused Schäuble of totally ignoring the authorities that would be responsible for such a system.

In a letter to Schäuble, seen by the daily Hamburger Abendblatt, Bode wrote: “I think it’s obvious that such serious considerations to changes to community financing should be discussed in the community finance commission (a commission set up by the Finance Ministry to look at reforming local government finances.)”

He added: “Representatives of the constitutional bodies have just been appointed to (the commission), who you have completely ignored in your approach.”

Schäuble was already come under pressure this week following the resignation of his spokesman Michael Offer after an embarrassing public reprimand by his boss last week during a press conference mix-up.

The Local/dw

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EXPLAINED: Berlin’s latest Covid rules

In response to rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates, the Berlin Senate has introduced stricter rules, which came into force on Saturday, November 27th. Here's what you need to know.

A sign in front of a waxing studio in Berlin indicates the rule of the 2G system
A sign in front of a waxing studio indicates the rule of the 2G system with access only for fully vaccinated people and those who can show proof of recovery from Covid-19 as restrictions tighten in Berlin. STEFANIE LOOS / AFP

The Senate agreed on the tougher restrictions on Tuesday, November 23rd with the goal of reducing contacts and mobility, according to State Secretary of Health Martin Matz (SPD).

He explained after the meeting that these measures should slow the increase in Covid-19 infection rates, which was important as “the situation had, unfortunately, deteriorated over the past weeks”, according to media reports.

READ ALSO: Tougher Covid measures needed to stop 100,000 more deaths, warns top German virologist

Essentially, the new rules exclude from much of public life anyone who cannot show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid-19. You’ll find more details of how different sectors are affected below.

If you haven’t been vaccinated or recovered (2G – geimpft (vaccinated) or genesen (recovered)) from Covid-19, then you can only go into shops for essential supplies, i.e. food shopping in supermarkets or to drugstores and pharmacies.

Many – but not all – of the rules for shopping are the same as those passed in the neighbouring state of Brandenburg in order to avoid promoting ‘shopping tourism’ with different restrictions in different states.

2G applies here, too, as well as the requirement to wear a mask with most places now no longer accepting a negative test for entry. Only minors are exempt from this requirement.

Sport, culture, clubs
Indoor sports halls will off-limits to anyone who hasn’t  been vaccinated or can’t show proof of recovery from Covid-19. 2G is also in force for cultural events, such as plays and concerts, where there’s also a requirement to wear a mask. 

In places where mask-wearing isn’t possible, such as dance clubs, then a negative test and social distancing are required (capacity is capped at 50 percent of the maximum).

Restaurants, bars, pubs (indoors)
You have to wear a mask in all of these places when you come in, leave or move around. You can only take your mask off while you’re sat down. 2G rules also apply here.

Hotels and other types of accommodation 
Restrictions are tougher here, too, with 2G now in force. This means that unvaccinated people can no longer get a room, even if they have a negative test.

For close-contact services, such as hairdressers and beauticians, it’s up to the service providers themselves to decide whether they require customers to wear masks or a negative test.

Football matches and other large-scale events
Rules have changed here, too. From December 1st, capacity will be limited to 5,000 people plus 50 percent of the total potential stadium or arena capacity. And only those who’ve been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be allowed in. Masks are also compulsory.

For the Olympic Stadium, this means capacity will be capped at 42,000 spectators and 16,000 for the Alte Försterei stadium. 

3G rules – ie vaccinated, recovered or a negative test – still apply on the U-Bahn, S-Bahn, trams and buses in Berlin. It was not possible to tighten restrictions, Matz said, as the regulations were issued at national level.

According to the German Act on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, people have to wear a surgical mask or an FFP2 mask  on public transport.

Christmas markets
The Senate currently has no plans to cancel the capital’s Christmas markets, some of which have been open since Monday. 

According to Matz, 2G rules apply and wearing a mask is compulsory.

Schools and day-care
Pupils will still have to take Covid tests three times a week and, in classes where there are at least two children who test positive in the rapid antigen tests, then tests should be carried out daily for a week.  

Unlike in Brandenburg, there are currently no plans to move away from face-to-face teaching. The child-friendly ‘lollipop’ Covid tests will be made compulsory in day-care centres and parents will be required to confirm that the tests have been carried out. Day-care staff have to document the results.

What about vaccination centres?
Berlin wants to expand these and set up new ones, according to Matz. A new vaccination centre should open in the Ring centre at the end of the week and 50 soldiers from the German army have been helping at the vaccination centre at the Exhibition Centre each day since last week.

The capacity in the new vaccination centre in the Lindencenter in Lichtenberg is expected to be doubled. There are also additional vaccination appointments so that people can get their jabs more quickly. Currently, all appointments are fully booked well into the new year.