Barbara Geier: Germany – lover of bureaucracy

Ah, Germany. Sometimes, you can be such a paradox of a country. Let me tell you another one of my little stories: not too long ago, a LinkedIn post by a German user caught my eye that highlighted a new regulation to be introduced at the start of 2020. It has a wonderful/horrible bureaucratic name – ‘Beleg-Ausgabepflicht’ – and basically means that any purchase, no matter how small, requires the vendor to print out a receipt for you, the buyer.

TEXT & PHOTO: BARBARA GEIER

Now, this is a bit odd. Because the German government also passed a law in September (the third of its kind!) to reduce bureaucracy and digitise all kinds of forms formerly required to be in print. Not to mention the fact that Germany is usually always big on anything that protects the environment, is sustainable, saves resources, and so on. You get the picture. Why now force people to print out unnecessary receipts that no one wants? The reactions to the above-mentioned LinkedIn post showed that I was not alone in my bafflement. Someone wrote about Switzerland where consumers are asked at self-checkouts if they want their receipt printed or not. Same here in the UK and I could imagine in other countries, too. Another (German) voiced her outrage against yet another example of a paradox: unnecessary political measures that counteract what is otherwise being done with regards to waste prevention. Let’s just say there was no one who saw any sense in it.

Alas, for the government, there is, as the measure is designed to prevent tax evasion. The German Federal Audit Office estimates that every year, tax payments of up to ten billion euros are evaded by restaurants, kiosks, bakeries and other shops by not or only partly registering amounts. Ok, I get it, but still, there should be other ways, in our digital world, shouldn’t there, than forcing people to print out huge amounts of paper? German retailers now expect that the new law will lead to an additional two million kilometres of special – non-recycable – receipt paper being printed on. Which is all the more bizarre as, according to the German bakers’ association (there’s a long official German name for this organisation, but I’ll spare you), the average turnover per customer in bakeries is between 3.50 and four euros, and currently, only two to three per cent ask for their receipt.

However, all protests and complaints by businesses to reconsider this receipt rule have so far been to no avail. As German business daily Handelsblatt put it, the government is sticking to its guns. However, there’s hope: the law expressly allows for alternatives to paper receipts, such as documentation sent to your mobile phone. Fingers crossed that German shops can transition to such digital means soon (yes, in this case, I’m all for digital) and until then, grin and bear it when in Germany and faced with an annoyed baker forcing a receipt on you… Happy New Year!

Barbara Geier is a London-based freelance writer, translator and communications consultant. She is also the face behind www.germanyiswunderbar.com, a German travel and tourism guide and blog that was set up together with UK travel writer Andrew Eames in 2010.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.

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