March 2021: 9 changes affecting expats in Germany
There is lots of new coming to Germany in March 2021, and we’re not just talking about the meteorological start of spring. From elections to electrical appliances, here are nine changes expats in Germany should look out for.
1. Clocks go forward
Let’s start with the bad news. Although the EU has been talking about phasing out Daylight Savings Time (DST) for many years now, it’s staying put for this year at least. And, yes, the spring one is the bad one - we all lose an hour of sleep when the clocks are set forward by an hour at 2 am on March 28. It will be darker in the mornings for a little while, but on the bright side, the light will last longer in the evening.
2. End of lockdown in sight?
At the beginning of February, it was decided that the current lockdown restrictions would be extended until March 7 - although schools and childcare facilities have gradually started to resume operations, and hairdressers are set to reopen on March 1.
Angela Merkel is due to meet with the leaders of the 16 federal states on March 3 to discuss the next steps for tackling the coronavirus in Germany. Whether or not they decide to extend the lockdown again will likely depend on the seven-day incidence rate (the number of new infections per 100.000 inhabitants within a week). If this has fallen below the target of 35, then non-essential shops, restaurants and leisure facilities could gradually be allowed to reopen. But nothing is yet set in stone.
3. New energy labels for electrical appliances
Next time you buy an electrical appliance, don’t be surprised if it doesn’t seem to be as energy-efficient as you’d expect. From March 1 onwards, Germany is overhauling its energy labelling system, scrapping the A+, A++ and A+++ labels in favour of a more simple A (very energy efficient) to G (not very efficient) rating.
The change is meant to make it easier for consumers to compare and choose devices based on how efficiently they use energy.
The classifications are also going to be tightened up to include not only power consumption but also ease of repair and rapid availability of spare parts: According to the Federal Association of Consumer Centres, appliances that would previously have been awarded an A+++ label will in future probably only achieve class B or C. No device currently fulfils the criteria to be classified as “A” efficient, to act as an incentive for manufacturers to innovate.
4. New generation of digital stamps in Germany
Deutsche Post has also been innovating - it has created a new stamp containing a trackable matrix code, which has been available in Germany since February 4. From March, these new kinds of digital stamps, which allow customers to get basic tracking updates on their items, will be rolled out to include additional motifs and shipping amounts. Deutsche Post has said that all stamps in Germany should feature the matrix code by 2022 at the latest.
5. Two-factor authentication becomes compulsory
Consumers have been gradually easing into the system, but from March 15, that’s it: two-factor authentication will be mandatory for all purchases made via the internet. Up until recently, simply entering your card number, expiry date and security code (CVV) was enough. From the middle of this month, you will also have to enter a passport or transaction number (TAN).
6. End of Baukindergeld property grant programme
The countdown has started for families in Germany who want to make use of the Baukindergeld scheme to build or buy a house. The grant project (which was supposed to come to an end last year before being extended due to the pandemic) was launched to make it easier for parents to buy or build their first home via a subsidy of 1.200 euros per child per year over 10 years.
To qualify for the scheme, you must now obtain a building permit or buy a property before March 31, 2021. You must then apply for the Baukindergeld allowance no later than six months after moving in, with the last possible date for submitting an application set for December 31, 2023.
7. Blue insurance plates for mopeds and scooters
Drivers of mopeds and e-scooters in Germany will need a new insurance number plate from March 1. The old black licence plate will be replaced by a new blue licence plate. Anyone who does not replace their insurance number plate after this deadline could face prosecution, according to the police - and in any case, they will not have valid vehicle insurance in the event of an accident.
8. The “super election year” begins
German media have dubbed 2021 the “super election year” (Superwahljahr), due to the number of local and state elections being held, alongside the general election in September. Things kick off in March with the state elections in Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, and the local elections in Hesse. A total of six federal states will elect their state parliaments in 2021, and in September the general election will decide who will succeed Angela Merkel to the chancellorship.
9. No severe hedge trimming until November
And last, but by no means least, the German hedge trimming law comes back into effect in March (yes, they really have a law for that). The Federal Nature Conservation Act stipulates that, from March 1 until September 30 every year, you are not allowed to make significant cuts or alterations to “hedges, living fences, bushes and other woody plants”, to protect the birds and animals that use these green spaces as nurseries during the warmer months. “Gentle pruning” is allowed.