Sunday 29th November 2020
The radio license fee in Germany is expected to rise again for the first time since 2009. That affects the wallet of almost every household. 86 cents more per month means: from January 1, 2021 exactly 18.36 euros. But the whole thing could fail in the last few meters – due to a veto from a federal state.
Why should the contribution increase?
A financial gap is predicted for the financing of public broadcasters in the coming years. ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio, for which the broadcasting fee is the main source of income, report their needs to an independent commission – called KEF – at intervals. The body set up by the state treaty then checks for frugality – and cuts some things away. The freedom of broadcasting is stipulated in the Basic Law. From this it is also deduced that the public broadcasters must be appropriately financed in order to fulfill their mandate.
What did the exam show?
From 2021 to 2024, the KEF assumes a financial gap of around 1.5 billion euros. Converted to households and companies, this amounts to an increase of 86 cents and thus 18.36 euros per month for radio broadcasting. The broadcasters registered a demand that was around twice as high. If the KEF experts had accepted that, 19.24 euros would have come out.
Who decides whether the premium will come?
That runs through several instances. First the KEF recommends a value, then the country leaders decide on the change in the State Broadcasting Agreement. The state parliaments have the last word. All state leaders and all state parliaments have to agree – 16: 0.
How could the higher contribution fail?
In a difficult constellation in Saxony-Anhalt. The CDU in the country has been complaining about the institutions’ lack of willingness to save for a decade and therefore wants to vote against EUR 18.36 in the decisive vote in mid-December. Your coalition partners SPD and Greens are in favor of the adjustment. If the coalition partners vote separately, a veto is likely. The AfD is not only against the increase, but against all contributions. The two parties CDU and AfD together have a majority in the country.
What is the next timetable?
Prime Minister Reiner Haseloff wants to get a unanimous vote from the coalition before the vote. He announced internal discussions. It is unclear whether he wants to change his CDU or the SPD and the Greens. How far Haseloff gets with his efforts becomes clear for the first time on December 2nd: Then the media committee in the state parliament makes its recommendation on how parliament should vote. Here the CDU and AfD could already prevail with a majority. That should cause additional turbulence beyond Saxony-Anhalt’s borders.
Why is the constellation politically problematic?
It is not common for coalition partners to vote differently. In this case, there is also the fact that the CDU would generate its majority with the AfD, although the Christian Democrats nationwide rule out cooperation with the right-wing populists. In the Saxony-Anhalt AfD there are many supporters of the officially disbanded “wing”, which is observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution as a right-wing extremist movement. The state CDU does not want to see any cooperation on the question of increasing the contribution, but voices are already increasing nationwide who see it differently. Should the CDU stick to its path, a government crisis in Magdeburg is likely that could last until the end of the black-red-green coalition.
In which parliaments are votes still pending?
Four decisions in state parliaments are still pending, as the lead State Chancellery of Rhineland-Palatinate announced. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Lower Saxony, voting will probably take place in the first half of December. Finally, the state parliaments of Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia follow. The other twelve parliaments have already approved the contribution increase.
What happens if Saxony-Anhalt votes against 18.36 euros?
Several scenarios are possible. If not all countries have deposited the corresponding instrument of ratification by December 31st, the change will be irrelevant. That means: It remains at 17.50 euros. Theoretically, this would also happen if a state parliament no longer votes in December.
Would the premium increase finally be off the table after a veto?
No. It is to be expected that broadcasters will then sue the Federal Constitutional Court. How long this would then legally drag on is not foreseeable.
What else is conceivable?
In a statement for the media committee in the state parliament in Magdeburg, the legal scholar Bernd Holznagel from the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster brought an urgent procedure in Karlsruhe into play in addition to the possibility of a lawsuit in the main proceedings. If successful, the contribution could – at least temporarily – increase on January 1st, until the whole thing is decided in the main proceedings. He rated the chances as high that such an application would fail in favor of the broadcasters, he told the dpa. The court, in turn, does not provide any information on possible proceedings that are not yet pending – not even on abstract questions about what would be legally conceivable.
Have there already been comparable scenarios in Germany?
“It has not yet happened that a state parliament has completely rejected the increase in the radio license fee,” emphasizes Holznagel. In 2005 there was a constitutional complaint from broadcasters against an increase that was below the contribution increase recommended by the KEF. The lawsuit was successful. According to previous jurisprudence, deviations by the federal states from the KEF recommendation are generally only possible within a narrow framework.