Program Accompanying Global Policy

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BERLIN (Own report) - Non-governmental organizations are warning that criticism of Berlin's policies may be repressed by financial pressure applied to organizations critical of the government. The Federal Finance Court has deprived Attac of its public service status. Members of the government coalition parties are demanding that this be also applied to other organizations. The German section of Transparency International warns that this ruling could seriously "restrict" the spectrum of opinions. At the same time, the German government has raised suspicion that student protests for better climate protection are influenced by foreign powers. The French President is calling for the creation of an EU "Agency for the Protection of Democracies" to prevent alleged foreign "manipulations." Pressure on critics of the government is being intensified at a time when, Berlin and the EU are intensifying their struggles to have leading positions in world policy-making. Historically, the fact that attempts to suppress domestic criticism are made in times, such as these, is nothing new.

"Protection against Foreign Powers"

Last Tuesday French President Emmanuel Macron called for the creation of a "European Agency for the Protection of Democracies." In his "open letter to European citizens," published in all 28 EU member countries, he asserts that the EU is currently faced with forces, who reject further integration and some - as in Great Britain - who are even seeking to leave the Union. The French President refers to certain "anger mongers, backed by fake news."[1] As his letter indicates, he sees these troublemakers mainly outside the EU, without explicitly naming Russia. To protect "the whole of Europe," Brussels must not only "ban the funding of European political parties by foreign powers," but also prevent "foreign powers from seeking to influence our votes at every election." Therefore, Macron is proposing "the creation of a European Agency for the Protection of Democracies to provide each EU member state with European experts to protect their election process against cyber-attacks and manipulation."

"Influenced from the Outside"

Chancellor Merkel recently demonstrated how the "manipulated" by foreign powers accusation can be used against inconvenient domestic movements. In a statement at the Munich Security Conference on February 16, Merkel mentioned the students' demonstration for better climate protection in the context of "Russia's hybrid warfare."[2] "This hybrid warfare in the internet is hard to detect," Merkel declared, "because you suddenly have movements that you wouldn't have thought would appear.” Even though the demand for better protecting the climate is "a really important issue," however "you can't imagine that all German children, after years, and without any outside influence, suddenly hit on the idea that they have to take part in this protest."

Drying Up Financially

The, by no means new, accusations that inconvenient protests are inspired by enemies abroad, is however, now being directly raised by heads of states and governments and are flanked by growing pressure on non-government organizations in Germany. The means being applied is the deprivation or seriously weakening of the ill-favored organizations' financial basis through the revocation of their tax-free public service status. The revocation of their public service status means that donations to that organization are no longer tax-deductible. This usually results in an appreciable drop in donations. Besides, only public service status organizations may receive money from courts, they are the only ones allowed to be the beneficiaries of fines or financial indemnities. The revocation of the public service status can dry up inconvenient activities or prevent them entirely through anticipatory obedience by the potential revocation victims.

Precedence Cases

Currently two organizations, in particular, have been targeted for revocation of their public service status: Environmental Action Germany (DUH) and Attac. By campaigning for driving bans in areas surpassing the permissible levels of pollution, the DUH has provoked the ire of the automobile industry, which has enormous influence in German government circles and is considered indispensable as the foundation for Germany's strengthened position in the global economy. At the end of 2018, the CDU decided to have the DUH's public service status reevaluated. The CSU seeks to even change the laws to deprive DUH of its financial basis.[3] Attac, on the other hand, is known as a "critic of globalization" and an opponent of the government in many areas. Having had its public service status revoked back in 2014, it won a court decision in its favor in May 2017, against which the government authorities appealed within the same month, on the express instructions of the Finance Minister at the time, Wolfgang Schäuble. February 26, the Federal Finance Court published its decision, which - completely siding with the government - revoked Attac's public service status.

A Limited Spectrum of Opinions

As the "Allianz Rechtssicherheit für politische Willensbildung" (Alliance for Legal certainty in Political Decision-Making) observed, the Federal Finance Court has extremely narrowly interpreted the "public education" concept, relevant to the purpose of public service.[4] The Alliance represents more than 80 associations and foundations, who now must also fear the loss of their public service status and, therefore, the financial basis for their functioning. The German section of Transparency International warns that the Federal Finance Court's decision could "lead to dubious constitutional restrictions of civil society's opinion-making within the society." It is "to be feared" that now "political stakeholders" will more often seek "to silence inconvenient critics with this method."[5] Organizations, which could be affected, are already intensively considering whether they should "stop fighting racism," because this may no longer be covered by the Federal Finance Court's narrow interpretation of public service status. There are "very big question marks."[6]

Historically Nothing New

Pressure on critics of the government is being intensified at a time when, Berlin and the EU are intensifying their struggles to have leading positions in world policy-making. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.) This is tied in with a massive arms buildup, with aggressive actions against foreign nations - primarily Russia - and with an ever more obvious ignorance in relationship to international law.[7] The fact that, during such phases, domestic criticism is repressed as much as possible is nothing new.

 

[1] Emmanuel Macron: "Für einen Neubeginn in Europa". tagesspiegel.de 05.03.2019.

[2] Kritik an Kramp-Karrenbauers Karnevalswitz "ziemlich scheinheilig". deutschlandfunk.de 04.03.2019.

[3] Corinna Budras, Frank Pergande, Konrad Schuller: Union will gegen Umwelthilfe vorgehen. faz.net 03.03.2019.

[4] Bundestag muss neue Zwecke ins Gesetz schreiben. zivilgesellschaft-ist-gemeinnuetzig.de.

[5] Attac-Entscheidung gefährdet politische Arbeit kritischer NGOs. transparency.de 06.03.2019.

[6] Theo Geers: Attac-Urteil sorgt für Unruhe bei Organisationen und Vereinen. deutschlandfunk.de 06.03.2019.

[7] See also Aufforderung zum Putsch and Friends of International Law.