Legal Loopholes

From Autobahn Tolls to the Maximum Length for German Sausages, Pork-Barrel Politics Still Rule in Europe

Wurst Stand Low Res, Berlin, July 16, 2014 Source DPA
A stand that sells sausages in Berlin on July 16, 2014.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    When rules are made, special exceptions are too often the key ingredients.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • In Germany and Europe, many policies have exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions.
    • This is true for laws dealing with topics as diverse as car tolls in Bavaria to pension eligibility.
    • The creativity of politicians is surpassed only by the comedians who make fun of them.
  • Audio

    Audio

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The coals are glowing, the grill is hot, the sausage is sizzling. It’s easy to be happy: It’s barbecue season in Germany again.

People at garden parties might request special sausages, such a vegetarian, tofu or cheese, for the grill. In German politics, the “special-interest sausage” is normal. Is there a political project that doesn’t have any special exceptions that even exists or could be considered?

The best example of special sausage in politics comes from Bavaria. It is the car toll, which is supposed to be paid by European drivers but not Germans, who would be exempt from the levy. Lawmakers in Munich are now debating exceptions to the toll originally proposed by Bavaria’s premier, Horst Seehofer.

Who should and who shouldn’t have to pay the car toll? Foreigners who live in Germany don’t want to pay it. Neither do Poles and Czechs, who often commute daily from regions that border Bavaria. Tourists, who only want to get to the nearest German airport, say they should also be exempt.

We see in Brussels how crippling such special-sausage politics can be. It’s not only Americans who make fun of the European Union. What exists are E.U. rules and exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions to the rules.

The creativity of politicians with respect to the car toll is surpassed only by caricaturists and comedians, who have been able to enjoy themselves with a few strokes of the pen and cheeky remarks: “Only half for those who drive Opel,” a modest German car brand, and “Oktoberfest visitors do not pay,” or “Turks pay double.”

The exception becomes the rule in other political projects, too. The statutory pension at age 63, without any cuts to the pension received, is an especially big pork-barrel project for the Social Democratic Party and labor unions.

 

Hohe Bußgelder gegen «Wurstkartell»
The European Union is trying to set a standard for the length of certain sausages in Germany and other E.U. countries. Source: DPA

 

Consider the debate about the minimum wage. It was a debate that seemed to focus on who shouldn’t get the minimum wage. Seasonal farm laborers, waiters, newspaper messengers, interns, etc. What should be the rule, what are the exceptions? What is considered the regular sausage, what is the tofu sausage? In the end, there were two more exceptions: People under age 18 and the long-term unemployed during the first half year.

We see in Brussels how crippling such special-interest sausage politics can be. It’s not only Americans who make fun of the European Union. What exists are E.U. rules and exceptions to the rules and exceptions to the exceptions to the rules. Britain, in particularly, is addicted to exceptions: British rebates, retaining the pound currency, exit threats. The result is little progress in Europe.

On that note: Bon appetit!

Tanja Kewes is chief reporter at Handlesblatt. She can be reached at kewes@handelsblatt.com

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