Effect of the Attac ruling on civic commitment

This is a translation of the German text „Auswirkungen des Attac-Urteils auf zivilgesellschaftliches Engagement“, published on 1. march 2019.

The German Federal Fiscal Court’s (BFH) judgement in the Attac case will affect thousands of associations and foundations throughout Germany, and likewise influence the involvement of the many thousands of people who belong to them. Accordingly many organizations are in great turmoil. The judgement shrinks spaces for civil society. Many association boards are now discussing whether they should discontinue some of their efforts on behalf of Attac. Media commentary on the judgement has been extensive, in keeping with its great relevance. Some commentators consider the judgement warranted and welcome the imposition of restrictions on organizations like Attac that hamper business as usual. Many others by contrast are demanding that government take action in order to broaden the scope for political action. An intermediate position is to propose creation of special rules for entities that are not parties but nonetheless participate in political discourse.

Discussion is taking place, which is always a good thing. The SPD parliamentary group is already planning to amend the tax law so as to exempt additional public benefit purposes from taxation. This is a much needed measure that must taken urgently. Charity legislation must be reformed. Until now few voices have been heard on this issue from the CDU and CSU parties. The chair of the CDU, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is herself committed to civic projects. She belongs to „Naturschutzbund“ (Nature Protection Association). But she has not yet commented on the judgement. Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer is morally obligated to defend Germany’s tradition of encouraging civic commitment and continuing to be a model liberal democracy.

The judgement poses little immediate danger to other associations: no denial of charitable status is expected for recognized associations devoted to education, research or promotion of democracy, until the Treasury issues new regulations based on the judgement into the implementing rules. The implementing rules constitute instructions for revenue offices across the country . Such administrative changes take weeks, if not months. And unfortunately the ministry often applies only those portions of Supreme Tax Court judgements that have restrictive effects.

We have not yet got around to writing an analysis of the judgement, among other things because of the flood of enquiries we have received in this connection (but later!). However we intend to publish a statement on this issue soon, together with our pertinent political demands. Naturally, as a non-profit alliance, we shall not hesitate to do so. If you wish to be kept informed of developments, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We would also be grateful for any donations that might be forthcoming to support our work. Like many civil society organizations, our alliance is funded by donations and by membership fees (the latter paid by its members, which are themselves associations and foundations). If you happen to be involved in a civic association, we encourage you to propose that it join our alliance.

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