German ecotax under further legal attack

Government confident despite leaked legal opinion backing refrigeration industry complaint

A growing legal battle over the German government's ecological tax reform programme has been thrust into the spotlight by a leaked document suggesting that at least one group campaigning against new energy taxes has strong arguments under law.

First introduced in 1999 and scheduled to be further deepened in coming years, the ecotax programme is designed to gradually shift the burden of taxation from employment to energy consumption. The measures have sparked a series of legal challenges to Germany's constitutional court, including a high profile claim by the haulage industry (ENDS Daily 16 March). Most claim that certain sectors are treated unfairly relative to others.

Now it has emerged that Germany's refrigeration industry is also attacking the ecotax programme, and that it could have a case against the government. The development is based on a leaked legal opinion on refrigeration industry association VDKL's challenge against the ecotax programme delivered to the constitutional court by Germany's highest court on fiscal issues.

In the document, the fiscal court concludes that it is unjustified for manufacturing industry to be offered rebates on energy taxes and not service industries. VDKL has responded that this "unambiguous court opinion...is a clear signal that the regulations in the electricity tax law [introduced in connection with the ecotax] are unconstitutional".

The government appears unruffled by the legal challenges. The plaintiffs "don't have a chance" one environment ministry official told ENDS Daily. German industry benefited from the ecotax reform this year to the tune of euros 1.02bn (DM2bn) in the form of lower employers' taxes and discounted ecotax rates, he added.

Up to ten legal challenges out of 60 submitted are currently being studied by the constitutional court, according to a court spokesperson, including that from VDKL. Rulings could emerge in three to six months.

Follow Up:
Federal fiscal court, tel: +49 89 92310; Federal constitutional court, tel: +49 721 91010; German environment ministry tel: +49 30 28550; VDKL, tel: +49 228 20 16 60 and press release.

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