German compulsory broadcast fee is legal, ECJ rules
The contribution is not an illegal form state aid and does not violate EU law, the European Court of Justice ruled on Thursday, responding to a further complaint on the issue brought to them by the Tübingen Regional Court.
The contribution - or €17.50 per household per month - is the main source of revenue for the TV and radio stations ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio.
For years there has been fierce opposition in Germany to the payment of the radio contribution, which is intended to ensure that public service broadcasters are not dependent on political or economic interests.
In 2017, almost €8 billion was collected. In the past the fee was dependent on what viewing or listening equipment a person had in their home.
Yet since 2013, the radio contribution has been levied flat-rate for each apartment - regardless of how many people live there and whether they have a television or a radio at all. Several people filed suits in German courts against the changed rules.
The Luxembourg judges have now ruled that the contribution is in line with EU law, and that the flat-rate contribution model doesn’t change this. When the licence fee depended on the equipment that each household used, such as TVs, inspectors went from house to house to track down non-payers.
The Tübingen Regional Court therefore asked the European Court of Justice, among others, whether the radio contribution for Südwestrundfunk (SWR) and ZDF was a prohibited state subsidy and if it violated EU law.
Opponents reject the contribution for various reasons. Some on principle, while others think they are being asked to pay too much. Those who live alone, for example, pay more than someone in a shared flat, who can simply divide the fee among those living in the household.
Even the Federal Constitutional Court had not objected in principle to the radio contribution in July and declared the contribution model constitutional. According to this ruling, people with two or more flats may only be asked to pay once in the future.
It gave the government until mid-2020 to change the law so that second home owners are no longer at a disadvantage.
The public broadcasters have refuted that the fee is unconstitutional or too high. ZDF boss Peter Frey said in January that his organization is legally obliged to report on the positives and negatives in any news item.
They also point to studies which have found that 99 percent of people over the age of 14 live in a household that contains at least on device capable or receiving public television or radio.