Germany: Outdated Law Risks Strangling Civic Activism

The Berlin tax office withdraws the charitable status of a German campaigning organization. By doing so, it makes it harder for citizens to get their views to their politicians.

We all want our leaders to use the power we have entrusted to them for the good of society. Concerned citizens come together to make this happen by creating rights and democracy groups.

In Germany, organizations that work on issues that are in the interest of the public qualify for a charitable status. The status allows donations to be tax deductible.

To receive such a status, an organization has to be engaged in specific activities. There are 25 such activities listed in German law (English version).

The list of activities includes things such as the advancement of equal rights for women and men, of religion and of life saving. It also includes varied causes, such as the advancement of plant cultivation, of aeromodelling and of dog sports.

But the list doesn’t include activities related to the advancement of human rights and social justice. Nor does it include climate protection as an activity that serves the public interest.

Campaigning organization Campact gets status revoked

The German organization Campact campaigns for climate protection and fundamental rights.

On Monday, the Berlin tax office withdrew its charitable status, arguing that some of the organization’s activities do not have a charitable purpose and are ‘too political’.

This is frustrating for an organization that tries to serve the public good. Frustrating also to the school children who march on the streets every Friday alongside Campact to fight for a better future.

And Campact is not an isolated case. Earlier this year, the French organization Attac also had its status revoked.

Human rights and environmental protection transcend partisan concerns

Organizations like Campact and Attac are dedicated to ensuring that we can all live a life of dignity and that we don’t kill our habitat. This is about public interest and goes beyond politics.

European governments have committed to protecting human rights and the environment through the European Convention on Human Rights and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Environmental protection and the safeguarding of fundamental rights are also part of the German Constitution. Different parties might have their own way of interpreting it, but as goals they transcend partisan concerns.

Civil society organizations protect us

At a time of increasingly restricted space for civil society organizations, such cases must be taken seriously. Losing its charitable status endangers Campact’s funding and its very existence. The government must restore its status and reform its outdated law.

Civil society organizations protect us. They uphold the rule of law by keeping governments accountable to the law. They inform us about political debates that may affect our rights and quality of life. Attempts to cut their funding are attacks on our democracy.