"The protection of professional secrecy is essential"

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BerlinShortly before the European elections, the president of the Federal Association of the liberal professions (BFB), Wolfgang Ewer, criticized too much influence from Brussels. "In the direction of Brussels to the EU Commission and, unfortunately, also towards Strasbourg to the European Parliament, we are constantly fighting a backlash against tendencies to soften the professional secrecy," said Ewer in an interview with the Handelsblatt. "Basically, we are very clear for Europe. But that does not exclude that we reject certain measures of the EU Commission, which we consider to be inappropriate and legally problematic. "

As an example, he mentions the fact that tax consultants should in future be required to report all legal tax-saving models to the tax office. "It is not about legal violations, but about the fiscal as undesirable tax policy classified models," said Ewer. That was very problematic. "The protection of professional secrecy is essential, for example, for tax consultants, but also for doctors or lawyers."

This is not a privilege of the professionals, but serve the people who need the services. "If then very lightly intervene in these things, threatening damage to the general public," said Ewer the Handelsblatt.

In this context, the BFB President also attacked Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD), which even goes beyond the EU requirements with regard to the tax consultants. "I think the Minister of Finance's steps are short-sighted," said Ewer.

Important structures for the society would be endangered in order to gain in the short term certain insights which politicians could obtain by other means as well. "Even if the models are reported anonymously, there remains in public the impression that it is not safe to confide in a tax consultant," criticized Ewer.

Wolfgang Ewer has just been re-elected as President of the Federal Association of the liberal professions for another two years in office. When he comes to the Berlin Handelsblatt editorial office, he immediately denounces the influence of Brussels – but also criticized Federal Finance Minister Scholz.

Read the whole interview here:

Mr Ewer, a new European Parliament will be elected next week. In almost all Member States, the incumbent forces of the Middle and the margins are losing strength. How do you rate the advance of the Eurosceptics?
That fills us with concern. Freelancers have the self-image that an open exchange takes place, within the discipline, but also beyond the borders. All tendencies aimed at suppressing opinion are causing concern. Basically, we are very clear for Europe. But that does not exclude that we reject certain measures of the EU Commission, which we consider to be inappropriate and legally problematic.

What do you mean in concrete terms?
Let's take this case: The tax consultants should be obliged in future to report all legal models for tax savings directly to the tax office. Mind you, this is not about violations of the law, but about the fiscal as undesirable tax policy classified models. That is very problematic. The protection of professional secrecy is essential, for example, for tax consultants, but also for doctors or lawyers. This is not a privilege of the professionals, but serves the people who need the services. If then very lightly intervened in these things, threatening damage to the general public.

Finance Minister Scholz even goes beyond the EU requirements with regard to the tax consultants. Do you feel abandoned by him?
I consider the Minister of Finance's steps shortsighted. Important structures for the society are endangered in order to gain in the short term certain insights which politicians could obtain by other means as well. Even if the models are reported anonymously, there remains in public the impression that it is not safe to confide in a tax consultant. So far, the self-declaration and the return to the road of the right have a great public interest. But this only works if the appearance is avoided, that the professional secrecy could erode.

Increasingly, data access by authorities is possible, for example by the US Cloud Act, the eEvidence Directive of the European Commission or the new police laws in Germany. What does this mean for professional secret carriers?
That is a critical development. For example, we have found that professional secrets are much worse protected by some state police laws than by federal law. It can not be like that. And in the direction of Brussels to the EU Commission and unfortunately also to Strasbourg to the European Parliament, we are constantly fighting a backlash against tendencies to soften the professional secrecy.

The Commission now wants to secure the right to approve or reject new laws and regulations for services in the Member States.
Yes, this planned tightening would significantly curtail the possibilities of professional self-administration of the liberal professions. At European level too much influence takes place. Behind this is a fundamentally different philosophy of the European Commission. She wants a free exchange of services with the main maxim that the price is low. We are, of course, in favor of an exchange of services, but the framework conditions must be geared to the interests of the people affected. Quality and expertise are the top priority.

What would be the consequences of strong deregulation in the field of liberal professions?
The protection of the common good would crumble. Because in the liberal professions regulation is important. It basically covers consumer protection. There is a good reason why, for example, medical services are reserved for licensed doctors. Therefore, it makes sense that it is ensured by training obligations that doctors constantly bring to the current state of the art of healing and master all diagnostic options. This does not serve the doctors, it serves the patient. It is similar in the other liberal professions.

Does the federal government take sufficient care of your concerns? For the self-employed freelancers contribute almost 330 billion euros and thus a good ten percent of GDP, reads the coalition agreement rather mau. Does the Chancellor leave you in the rain?
You cant say it like that. Especially with regard to the Brussels deregulation efforts, we have found a hearing with the Federal Government, both in the Chancellery and in the Ministry of Economic Affairs. For example, the EU Commission's infringement proceedings against the Federal Republic of Germany are currently under way, according to which the binding fees for architects and engineers are in breach of European law. Since the cooperation with the federal government is good.

The industry is very dissatisfied with Minister of Economic Affairs Altmaier. What experiences have you had?
We have no reason to complain. We have interlocutors in the Ministry of Economic Affairs who open our argument and represent them in Brussels.

Do you come across an open ear in the Federal Ministry of Health as far as free health professions are concerned? Many doctors see in the law for faster appointments and better care of Minister Spahn a riotous intervention.
Some of the health professional organizations have expressed themselves very clearly critical of this project. As a federation, we can not judge bills that affect individual occupations.

Currently, it seems popular to question free markets. Juos boss Kühnert fabulates about the collectivization of companies, in Berlin is voted on the expropriation of housing construction companies. Is that a dangerous tendency?
Such topics can only gain popularity if they respond to questions that people face – even if they give incorrect answers. Whether Mr Kühnert's initiative or the demand for the socialization of housing, this can only become a headline if there is a social problem. In the liberal professions, however, despite such tendencies there is optimism about the future. There is also an occasion for that. The liberal professions are growing and the economic power and duration of start-up companies are developing positively. So there is no moaning, but a "Let's pack it". The problems are more in the shortage of skilled workers.

They say the liberal professions are growing. That does not apply to the established doctors. Many find no successors to the practice. Young doctors prefer to hire. Do you see that this trend could spread to other areas of liberal professions?
These tendencies can not be denied. This also applies, for example, to lawyers. 20 years ago, the basic idea of ​​every job starter was to become self-employed as quickly as possible or to become a partner. Today, part of the legal profession no longer wants to bear entrepreneurial risk. In principle, new ideas about work-life balance also play a role. But we want to strengthen the willingness to work independently as a freelancer.

How will the job description of liberal professions change as a result of digitization?
Digitization is problematic in several ways. This has to do with the special role of the liberal professions. Anyone who uses a lawyer or a doctor can, unlike the upholsterer, often fail to assess the quality of the service offered. Therefore, it is important that the service be provided only by someone who has undergone a state-regulated authorization process, is subject to professional supervision and fulfills educational obligations. Now it is often said that consumers have more opportunities to value services through the Internet. But that's not true. Things are too complex, nothing will change that. Everyone knows about the abstruse results of a medical Internet diagnosis.

However, there are now Legal Tech, Internet portals such as Flightright or Wenigermiete.de, which offer automated legal services. Do you see that as a threat?
There is certainly a certain need that either did not exist in the past or was not served. But if partial services are provided by commercial service providers outside the liberal professions, be it in the legal, tax or medical field, the entire system would erode.

But the service providers already exist.
The fact that today services are provided using algorithms does not change the consumer's need for protection or the fact that there are good reasons to delegate responsibility for it to professionals. Such offers may not be subsequently made acceptable by law. Of course, it makes sense to use artificial intelligence. But this may only take place under the aegis of a free profession.

The portals could only establish themselves, because the law firms have not cared about such small claims so far.
In the future this will have to be priced on terms that allow consumers access to the law. We must make positive use of the opportunities offered by digitization, but we must not allow ourselves to be instrumentalized and controlled.
Mr. Ewer, thank you for the interview.

. (tagsToTranslate) Federation of liberal professions (t) Wolfgang Ewer (t) tax – saving models (t) tax consultants (t) professional secrecy (t) digitization

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