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News and views from the German-language region of Europe

September 9, 2008

Déjà vu: Beast power arising

Filed under Life in Europe

Once again a news item from Germany has caught the fancy of Church of God groups and their bloggers. What’s the real story on Germany’s new tax i.d. number?

If you read certain Church of God news items and blog entries, you might think that any day now we might have another January 30, 1933 with some kind of extreme right wing party taking power like Adolf Hitler did 75 years ago. What triggered the interest this time? Germany’s new tax i.d. number. Now that is really something to get worked up over. :-)

Unlike the United States, up to now Germany has not had any kind of personal identifier that accompanies you for life like America’s Social Security number (SSN). When we lived in Manila some 18 years ago, I was amazed one year to learn that I would not be able to file our income tax return to the IRS because we had to have SSNs for our children Ted and Rachel, and we had not gotten them one yet. Now for the first time Germany is assigning a new tax i.d. number to all its residents and it is supposed to be a sure sign of Adolf on the horizon. In reality the new tax i.d. number is – in my opinion – a step long overdue for a country whose citizens are extremely data protection conscious, even having mounted a court challenge to a census taken in the 1980s on the grounds that it would violate data protection laws.

Up to now when a German moved from one tax office jurisdiction ("Finanzamt") to another, he got a new tax number. So it was hard for tax authorities to trace individual tax records – an incomprehensible situation for someone like me who has to file income tax returns in two countries. Now if you move here, you may get a new local tax number, but you will file your income tax return using both the local number and your tax i.d. number.

But wait: the new tax i.d. number is already being challenged in court, so the last word hasn’t been spoken yet. (Imagine what the Germans might do if they had to comply with America’s "Patriot Act"!)

Within the EU, Germany’s introduction of a tax i.d. number follows the pattern established by the EU for bank transfers within the EU. In the future, when a German deposits money in a European bank outside of Germany, he will need to give his personal tax i.d. number. Why? Because a number of Germans have used foreign banks to deposit investments unable to be traced by German tax authorities.

Apparently even deposits made in Switzerland and Liechtenstein will require the tax i.d. number.

By the way – guess what other country is pushing for "transparent" deposits in these two countries? Why, lo and behold, it is none other than the United States of America. And for the same reason – tax evasion. Funny, in America’s case no one wonders about a possible repeat of January 30, 1933.

Paul Kieffer's blog with personal insights and news from the German-language region in Europe.


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