Greens oppose higher commuter allowance for German workers

As Germany's traffic light coalition prepares to consult on steps to combat high fuel prices, opposition to a possible increase in the controversial 'commuters allowance' is coming from the Greens.

Car drivers on A52
Car drivers sit in traffic on the A52 motorway near Düsseldorf. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Achim Scheidemann

“The commuter allowance is already an environmentally harmful subsidy,” Sven-Christian Kindler, the budgetary spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group, told the Augsburger Allgemeine on Tuesday. “An increase in the commuter allowance would be socially unjust and economically and ecologically counterproductive.”

The SPD, Greens and FDP are meeting on Wednesday to thrash out a set of measures to relieve households who are struggling with high energy costs, with the option of a higher commuter allowance likely to be on the table. 

But Kindler said the commuter allowance would mainly benefit people with higher incomes, and the financial gains wouldn’t be felt until next year’s tax return was submitted. 

“We have to help people with low incomes instead of handing out expensive tax gifts,” he explained. 

A viable package would include the immediate supplement for children from poor families, a fair distribution of the CO2 price between landlords and tenants for heating costs and a one-off payment for people on benefits, the Green politician said.

In an interview with ZDF on Monday, SPD deputy leader and Saarland Economics Minister Anke Rehlinger had spoken out in favour of raising the commuter allowance, which offers tax relief for people who travel long distances to work.

Upping the allowance would be a “quick and effective instrument” to use in the current energy crisis, she said. 

READ ALSO: Households in Germany to get some relief on electricity bills

The idea is also supported by high-profile figures in the pro-business FDP, including Finance Minister Christian Lindner, and by the CDU/CSU-led federal states, who argue that it would ease the burden of fuel costs on rural communities.

According to the Augsburger Allgemeine, SPD financial policy spokesman Michael Schrodi has also expressed scepticism about an increase in the commuter alllowance.

“There are other options on the table,” he said, adding that he preferred direct payments as a means of supporting struggling households.

What is the commuter allowance?

For journeys to work, the tax office currently allows employees to write off 30 cents per kilometre of one-way travel as a deductible expense known as the ‘commuter allowance’.

From the 21st kilometre of commute onwards, 35 cents per kilometre can be deducted – though this is set to go up to 38 cents in 2024.

The commuter allowance can be used regardless of which method of transport people use to get to work, so drivers, public transport users and cyclists can all take advantage of it. 

Green Party budgetary spokesperson Sven-Christian Kindler speaks in the Bundestag in 2017. Kindler is a vocal opponent of the commuter allowance. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Michael Kappeler

The tax office allows employees to write off €1,000 in annual work-related expenses without any evidence of their actual costs. 

If the expenses go above this level, every additional euro can lower that employee’s tax burden further.

This means that the majority of people only tend to start to benefit from the tax deductions if they travel more than 10km to work each day and therefore exceed the €1,000 threshold as a result of their commute. 

READ ALSO: E-cars and sleeper trains: How Germany’s new government will reform transport

For 2017, according to earlier data from the Federal Statistical Office, around 18.4 million commuters stated that they drove at least part of the distance to work by car and 7.5 million commuters had a commute of more than 20 kilometres.

A higher commuter allowance is controversial, especially among the Greens, as they say that it offers a tax incentive for long car journeys and benefits just a small number of higher earners.

The CDU/CSU want the flat rate to be upped to 38 cents per kilometre and adjusted to match developments in the CO2 tax.

The IG BCE trade union, which advocates for workers in the mining, ceramics and energy sectors, wants the commuter allowance to go up to 40 cents per kilometre for the current tax year.


commuter allowance – (die) Pendlerpauschale 

to dispense / hand out – verteilen 

harmful to the environment – umweltschädlich

effective – wirksam 

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Germany says EU will ‘severely’ sanction Putin

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Friday said new sanctions against Russia would personally punish President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for their responsibility in the invasion of Ukraine.

Germany says EU will 'severely' sanction Putin

“They are responsible for the death of innocent people in Ukraine. They are responsible that the international system is trampled and we as Europeans do not accept that,” Baerbock said as she arrived for talks in Brussels.

As of Friday afternoon, it was unclear whether Putin and Lavrov would still be allowed to enter the EU without restrictions. Normally, indviduals who are sanctions lists also face entry bans, which would only be lifted with exceptional permission, for example for peace talks.

The punitive measures are part of a large sanctions package that is expected to come into force later today. The foreign ministers of the 27 EU states plan to sign off on the legal texts on Friday afternoon. 

According to diplomats, the heads of state and government of the EU states agreed on the listing of Putin and Lavrov on the sanctions list on Thursday evening.

Though Russia’s president is very unlikely to have assets abroad, the mention of Putin and his Foreign Minister in the sanctions list is intended as a symbolic show of resolve. 

Other EU economic sanctions target the areas of energy, finance and transport. In addition, the EU is export controls on certain products and restrictions on visas in place. 

Not so SWIFT

Two sanctions that experts believe would have the hardest impact – excluding from Russia from the SWIFT banking system and banning natural gas imports – were notably absent from the sanctions package on Friday.

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, does not actually handle any transfers of funds itself.

But the system is used by banks to send standardised messages about transfers of sums between themselves, transfers of sums for clients, and buy and sell orders for assets. 

This means that a country shut out of it would face huge difficulties when attempting to trade with others and is generally considered the nuclear option when it comes to sanctions on Russia. 

The lack of movement on SWIFT has been met with dismay by Ukrainian leaders, who have expressly called on Western allies to expel Moscow from the system that banks rely on to transfer money.

But US President Joe Biden revealed this week that while it remains an option, “right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take.”

READ ALSO: OPINION: This is Russia’s war, but we Europeans need to learn fast from our mistakes

He claimed that the action taken to freeze the assets of Russian banks would have a more severe impact than blocking access to SWIFT. 

However, many political figures are deeply unhappy about the delay in excluding Russia from the transfer system.  

Writing on Twitter, former European Council President Donald Tusk lashed out at the EU nations – including Germany – who are believed to have been responsible for obstructing the harder sanctions. 

Donald Tusk

Former European Council President Donald Tusk speaks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 25th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/PAP | Pawel Supernak

“In this war, everything is real: Putin’s madness and cruelty, Ukrainian victims, bombs falling on Kyiv. Only your sanctions are pretended (sic),” Tusk wrote. “Those EU governments, which blocked tough decisions (i.e. Germany, Hungary, Italy) have disgraced themselves.”

Speaking on public television on Friday, German Finance Minister Christian Lindner laid out starkly the preoccupation of Europe’s biggest economy: suspension of SWIFT “would mean that there is a high risk that Germany will no longer receive gas, raw material supplies from Russia”.

Lindner said he was “open” to including SWIFT “in the course of possible further toughening of sanctions” while adding that allies would “have to be aware of the consequences.”

The EU, US and UK have all indicated the SWIFT is still on the table for a later date, and experts have predicted that Russia may retaliate to the sanctions by opting to cut off supplies of natural gas into Europe. 

Up until recently, the Russian state-owned company Gazprom has supplied around 40 percent of the gas consumed in the EU, according to the EU Commission.

Germany, meanwhile, gets around 55 percent of its natural gas from Russia, accounting to around 25 percent of its total energy needs. 

READ ALSO: ‘Historical failure’: Germany to hike military spending after years of underfunding