German Ministry of Finance on Bitcoin

Frank Schäffler is a Member of the German Parliament, the Bundestag, for the FDP. I recall that the FDP needs to be defeated in the coming elections, since they are an enemy of renewable energy.

Now several German newspapers report on the answer the German government has given to a formal question (kleine Anfrage) Schäffler did on the topic of the Bitcoin network. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and the Welt both have articles on this development.

Unfortunately, the original text of the Ministry of Finance’s answers is not yet available at the Bundestag website. While the article at Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung asserts that they have seen the answer, they did not post a copy for readers to check the original source. That means I can only discuss this based on the secondary sources available right now.

From that, it appears that the Ministry of Finance views bitcoins as “Rechnungseinheiten” (units of account).

That is not a new position. The German financial regulator BaFin has taken that position as well already.

The consequence of this opinion is that anyone starting a bitcoin exchange like MtGox in Germany needs a license from BaFin under Article 32 Kreditwesengesetz.

As explained earlier, an exchange licensed in some other EU country could do business in Germany based on that license. In the EU financial sector, you need only a license in one Member State to do business in all Member States, which is much less burdensome than the requirement under American law regarding money transmitting businesses which are required to get licenses in all individual States, costing a lot of money for lawyers and time.

The Welt article also says that according to the answer of the Ministry of Finance selling bitcoins is not excepted from value added tax under Article 4 Number 8 b) Umsatzsteuergesetz. That exception reads:

die Umsätze und die Vermittlung der Umsätze von gesetzlichen Zahlungsmitteln. (My translation: turnover (…) of legal currency).

If you are selling dollars for Euros at some airport in Germany, you don’t need to pay value added tax. But bitcoins are not “legal currency” under that exception, according to the Ministry of Finance. So if you sell bitcoins with your dollars at your airport booth, you would need to pay value added tax for the bitcoins transactions.

(This post is based on a short comment I wrote at this Reddit thread on the German government answer).

 

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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