EU Magistrate Endorses Germany Revenue Shakeup

(CN) – Germany is reportedly seeing an $821 million influx of annual revenue after switching up how it collects fees supporting public-service broadcasters. As a challenge to the new scheme brews in Luxembourg, a magistrate recommended Wednesday that the European Court of Justice grant its seal of approval.

Laying out the relevant background, a press release from the court notes that it has been 11 years since the European Commission endorsed that Germany’s longstanding method of financing public television.

While Germany earns some revenue from advertising and other commercial activities, it makes the bulk of its money for public broadcasters by charging a fee for each broadcast-receiving device found in a dwelling.

In 2007 the commission found that fee was not its concern: having predated the treaty that established the European Community, it qualified as “existing aid.”

More recently, however, judicial authorities in Tubingen asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on a 2013 change that made it so that now the broadcast fee must be paid by anyone who owns or rents a dwelling.

Advocate General Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona said Wednesday that the legislative change should not be held to create illegal state aid.

Though a copy of the opinion is not available in English, a press release from the court said the change cannot be said to substantially change the previous scheme since the objectives, temporal effects and intended beneficiaries of the aid, public-service broadcasters, remain unchanged.

Campos Sanchez-Bordona also disputed the argument that Germany is now seeing a massive increase in revenue “since the number of persons liable to it has been extended to include the entire adult population.”

“Contrary to what the German court maintains, the income obtained from the charging of the fee appear to have remained stable from 2009 (before the legislative amendment) to 2016,” the press release states (parentheses in original).

But even if the revenue has shot up, Campos Sanchez-Bordona said such a change should be deemed irrelevant since “the proportion of it that will go to the public service broadcasters … is fixed.”

“Therefore, there is no automatic link between the increase (if any) in the eventual revenue and the amount of the aid received by the public service broadcasters,” the press release continues. “A mere alteration of the basis for determining the obligation to pay incumbent on persons liable to the fee is not, in itself, such as to change the amount of the public aid received by public service broadcasters or, therefore, to have any bearing on the compatibility of that aid with the internal market.

Later, Campos Sanchez-Bordona noted that leaving the previous scheme in place might have altered the revenue as well, “given the proliferation of new devices that provide access to broadcast programming.”

“Furthermore, the reform serves the purpose of making it easier to manage the fee recovery process, which had been beset by an increase in late payments,” the press release continues.

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