The interpretation of an antiquated law on charitable status is threatening politically active civil society organisations in Germany
In February 2019, the German Supreme Tax Court issued a judgment with far-reaching consequences. It ruled that the charitable cause of political education was to be interpreted in a very narrow way that explicitly excludes attempts to ‘influence public opinion on political issues according to one’s own views’. As a result, the anti-globalisation platform Attac, that had been in legal proceedings with its local finance authorities since 2014, lost its charitable status on the grounds that it was too opinionated on political matters.
While the struggle about this specific case is ongoing, it reveals a much broader complex situation that is threatening critical civil society in Germany and Europe. Several other charitable organisations including Campact, Change.org, and VVN BdA have already lost or fear to lose their charitable status and thousands more are wondering whether they will share their fate. Foundations that support politically active civil society organisations are concerned.
While a charitable environmental organisation can actively make political demands, it cannot actively interject them into the political discourse.