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How it could soon become much easier to cancel a contract in Germany

It doesn’t matter if it’s a music subscription, mobile phone contract or electricity provider: quitting a service is often much harder than buying something on the internet. Here's how that could change in 2020.

How it could soon become much easier to cancel a contract in Germany
A letter for a 'Kündigung' (termination notice). Photo: DPA

Especially for contracts that are automatically renewed, many consumers get out of them much later than they would like. Consumer protectors and politicians are therefore calling for it to become easier to cancel a contract. 

“Too often, it costs consumers unnecessary time and effort to cancel contracts,” Tabea Rößner, network policy spokeswoman for the Green Party, said to DPA. 

READ ALSO: Explained: Why shops in Germany will soon be forced to give you a receipt

“Anyone who has reached the end of a contract and wants to cancel it has already experienced it: it is not that easy.”

The so-called “button solution” has been in effect for online purchases since 2012 – customers simply make their purchases by pressing a button with a description such as “Order now with an obligation to pay” (Jetzt zahlungspflichtig bestellen). 

Yet the German government has neglected consumers when it comes to terminating contracts for far too long, said Rößner. 

“While it’s easy to enter the contract, it’s not easy to get out of it,” she said. 

The Green Party's Tabea Rößner, pictured here in November 2017. Photo: DPA

The following are ideas which German politicians and consumer ministers have proposed to change that.

Contracts with automatic renewal

Whether an electricity provider, fitness studio, newspaper subscription, or Bahncard (train pass) – many contracts are automatically extended by one year if they aren’t terminated in time. 

“I should be able to terminate every three months,” said the head of the consumer advice centers, Klaus Müller. 

Currently, people too often miss the termination date and are then are bound to the contract for another year, said Müller. But those who have not seen the inside of their gym for a long time should not have to pay more for it.

The cancellation button

The Greens are pressing for online cancellation to be as easy as setting up an online contract. No tedious searching for an e-mail address in the copyright page (labelled as “Impressum” on German websites) and no faxes. 

Rather, cancellation should be possible simply by clicking on a clearly visible cancellation button.

“Anyone who can easily click into a contract must also be able to easily click out again,” says Rößner. Companies should convince their customers to continue their contractual relationship through offering a good product or service – not through cumbersome termination procedures, she said.

Confirmation by email

At present, consumers are often not sure if their cancellation emails have been received or not.

Acknowledgements of receipt are rare, and the simple sending of a cancellation notice is not legally considered proof.

That is why the Greens are demanding obligatory acknowledgements of receipt for emails asking for cancellation of contracts – so that the sender can legally show that they cancelled in time.

 “It cannot be that a horse-drawn carriage is needed for legal certainty regarding the receipt of a letter,” said Rößner.

A confirmation is already required when a contract is concluded, which Rößner says should also apply to the final termination.

Photo: DPA

Governmental plans

Consumer Minister Christine Lambrecht’s (SPD) draft legislation, which limits the duration of contracts to one year, has not yet been voted on by Germany’s federal ministry because the economics ministry has expressed concerns. 

With the law, Lambrecht also wants to ensure that contracts may only automatically be extended by a maximum of three months.

Consumer protectionists view the initiative positively. “It is certainly the case that there are very occasional attractive offers, for example when I combine a mobile phone with a 24-month mobile phone contract,” said Müller.

Yet that doesn’t always apply. “It is not a law of nature that a long contract is automatically a favorable contract. In other European countries, shorter contract periods have even led to falling mobile phone prices.

The consumer protection ministry also wants to take action against phone advertising for electricity contracts.

This is a long overdue step for the consumer advice centres: people who are at home a lot are sometimes maltreated several times a day with illegal telephone advertising, said Müller. 

“This is not only unpleasant, but also expensive,” he added.

For customers, it’s too easy to get out of such a phone call by signing up for a new cell phone contract or an insurance company that you didn't want at all, he said. 

“Such contracts must actually be confirmed in writing so that I have another chance to stop [and think about the offer],” Müller said. 

The ministry has so far only made a suggestion to stop phone advertising for electricity contracts, and not other types of services.

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Will Germany’s Greens face tougher election race after series of gaffes?

Germany's resurgent Green party, its sights set on the chancellery in September's election, has stumbled on the campaign trail over undeclared bonus payments and controversial comments about arming Ukraine.

Will Germany's Greens face tougher election race after series of gaffes?
Annalena Baerbock at a Greens Press Conference on May 17th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

But although support for the centre-left, ecologist Greens has slipped in the wake of the missteps, the party remains neck-and-neck with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives.

The Greens dipped by one percentage point in this week’s Forsa poll for broadcasters NTV/RTL but held on to the top spot at 25 percent. Merkel’s CDU/CSU bloc, which has selected the unpopular Armin Laschet for the race to succeed Merkel, came a close second at 24 percent.

A different poll, carried out by Insa for Bild newspaper, put the
conservatives ahead at 26 percent followed by the Greens on 22 percent.

READ ALSO: From trailblazing radicals to Germany’s ‘most popular party’: Who are the Greens?

Tax slip

Last week, Greens co-leader Annalena Baerbock admitted she had failed to declare around 25,000 in supplementary income to parliament. It is Baerbock who has been tapped to lead her party into the September 26th vote.

The 40-year-old, who is thought to have a realistic shot at becoming Germany’s first Green chancellor, called it a “stupid oversight” that has since been corrected.

But opponents have leapt on the slip-up as a sign of hypocrisy from a party championing more transparency in politics.

The Sueddütsche daily said the case did not amount to a corruption scandal like the one that has snagged several of Merkel’s conservatives, who are accused of profiting from face mask contracts early on in the pandemic.

“But it weakens (Baerbock), because her campaign thrives on being more upstanding that her competitors,” it noted.

READ ALSO: ‘Stupid oversight’: German Green Chancellor candidate stumbles after failing to declare bonus

Annalena Baerbock on May 20th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

‘Defensive weapons’

Fellow Greens leader Robert Habeck meanwhile caused a storm when he suggested during a trip to eastern Ukraine that the country should be allowed to buy “defensive weapons” from the West.

The traditionally pacifist Green party was quick to disown the suggestion, saying it supported the current German government policy not to supply weapons to war zones.

Habeck’s remarks nevertheless rattled the centre-left Social Democrats, potential coalition partners in a future Green-led government.

The charismatic but gaffe-prone Habeck rowed back on Wednesday, saying he was referring to “night vision goggles, reconnaissance equipment and ammunition clearance”.

The turmoil comes at a delicate time for the Greens because Baerbock “is still cementing her image among the public”, Thorsten Faas, a political scientist at Berlin’s Free University, told AFP.

Baerbock, an expert in international law and mother of two, was chosen in April over Habeck to be the Greens’ chancellor candidate.

The nomination gave the Greens a boost that saw them overtake Merkel’s bloc in opinion polls for the first time.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long.

‘Ironic’ racism

Baerbock quickly became the subject of a barrage of fake news and online attacks, from false claims about her green policies and scrutiny of her education, to a photoshopped nude picture.

The Greens have pushed back, condemning the at times sexist attacks and launching an online “fire service” to expose false stories.

But the party had to put out more fires earlier this month when Green mayor Boris Palmer posted racist remarks on Facebook about a black soccer player.

Palmer claimed his comments had been meant ironically, but members of the Greens in Baden-Württemberg state overwhelmingly voted to exclude him from the party.

Baerbock herself denounced the comments a “racist and repulsive”.

“The Greens are still doing well in the polls,” the Handelsblatt daily
said. “But the election is still four months away. A lot can happen.”