December 2019: 5 changes affecting expats in Germany
The year may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late for some new things! While January will bring a whole host of changes, December spells the arrival of some new train timetables and a few other things that could affect expats in Germany.
1. New train timetables for Deutsche Bahn
As with every other year, Deutsche Bahn will release its winter timetable for 2019/2020 on December 15. The company, which holds a near-monopoly on long-distance rail travel in Germany, wants to increase the number of connections between major German cities and put more ICE and Sprinter high-speed trains into use.
As well as opening the first-ever ICE connection between Germany and Switzerland, Deutsche Bahn will increase connections between Hamburg and North Rhine-Westphalia by 15 percent. Trains travelling the existing Berlin - Erfurt - Munich and Berlin - Braunschweig - Frankfurt routes will not make any other stops.
This is also the first time in several years that Deutsche Bahn has not increased its ticket prices in December. Prices are actually expected to go down next year, in line with the VAT decrease outlined in the climate package.
2. Toll fees in Austria more expensive
If you were planning on driving over to Austria in the run-up to the national holiday (or at any time after December 1), it’s going to cost you a bit extra. Starting next month, the price of an annual vignette - a type of permit motorists need to drive on Austrian roads - will increase by 2,1 percent to 91,10 euros. The cost of two-month and 10-day tickets will also go up, by 60 cents and 20 cents, respectively.
However, there is some good news. The Austrian parliament recently agreed to exempt from the toll five sections of motorway that are close to the German border, including the Westautobahn A1 between Walserberg and Salzburg Nord and the Inntalautobahn A12 between the border and Kufstein-Süd. In so doing, the government hopes to put a stop to the traffic chaos caused by drivers detouring down country roads to avoid the tolls.
3. Better protection for parcel deliverers
In order to improve conditions for couriers and parcel deliverers working in Germany, the new Parcel Courier Protection Act will come into force on December 1. To improve cost efficiency, large parcel service providers often passed orders on to subcontractors, some of whom pay little or no contributions to social security.
The new law will ensure that all subcontractors pay their social security dues properly. From December, health insurance funds and professional associations will be able to issue a so-called “clearance certificate” to subcontractors that meet their social security obligations. The law also means that the main service provider can be penalised if their subcontractor fails to pay contributions.
4. No more mass messages on WhatsApp
From December 7, the regular sending of mass messages such as newsletters will be prohibited on Whatsapp. The company recently announced that, in principle, sending such messages already contravenes its usage guidelines, but that from December onwards it will be taking legal action against those who continue to send mass messages.
5. Stricter rules in food control
If you’ve been concerned about the recent listeria outbreak in Germany, you’ll be pleased to hear: food controls in the European Union will be significantly tightened from December 14. The new rules will create a comprehensive and uniform control system for the whole food supply chain.
A cornerstone of the new system is regular, unannounced and risk-orientated inspections, which in future will focus on fraudulent practices as well as food safety. Whistleblowers who point out problems will also be better protected in future.