German association: Online retailers should finance urban transformation | News | DW | 05.10.2021

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German association: Online retailers should finance urban transformation

The federal association of municipalities wants a package tax for online retailers that use local infrastructure. The money would be used to revitalize town centers where shops are rapidly disappearing.

Amazon Prime delivery truck and worker

Online profits are soaring and cities think some of the profit should be reinvested in ailing local communities

The German Association of Towns and Municipalities (DStGB) on Monday called for lawmakers to introduce a tax on package deliveries from large online retailers.

The DStGB said it would help finance the transformation of economically battered municipalities across Germany as it had "grave concerns about current developments in town and city centers."

"The pandemic hit retailers and restaurants hard," said Association President Ralph Spiegler and Managing Director Gerd Landsberg. "We have to assume that many businesses across the country will be forced to close, others may never reopen. That means innumerable job losses," they said, urging state and local governments to actively address the plight of towns and cities.

The big haul: online retailers cash in during pandemic

But they also also pointed out that the pandemic didn't just produce losers. "Online retail profited, and was able to push revenue past €72 billion ($83.6 billion)."

Major online retailers such as Amazon, says Landsberg, benefit greatly from local infrastructure yet often pay little or no local business taxes. The association says the proposed package tax should be directly linked to sales volume and calculates that it could generate billions to then be invested in local communities.

Addressing the issue of restructuring towns and cities, Landsberg said: "Necessary measures will require substantial additional funding. Therefore, we are calling for a delivery tax to get large online retailers involved in financing infrastructure."

"City and town centers are the business card and soul of every community," said Landsberg. "That's why we need strategies to keep our city and town centers from dying out," he told the German daily newspaper Handelsblatt.

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Urban spaces 'will have to fundamentally change'

Though the coronavirus represents perhaps the most vivid real-time example of change in towns and cities, it is just one of a number of factors pointing to an urgently needed rethinking of how public spaces are used.

Retail stores have long struggled to survive as online retailers cut more deeply into their businesses and real estate prices have continued to rise, but at the same time the effects of climate change have made urban spaces unbearable in hot summer months as traffic congestion, asphalt and lack of shade make them ever less hospitable.

Towns and cities "will have to fundamentally change so that people will want to go and spend time in them in the future," said Landsberg. "We need more experiential spaces, more artisans, art, culture and living space, but, in regard to necessary climatic adjustments, we also need more green and more blue [water] to improve the quality of such stays during ever hotter summers."

DStGB President Spiegler spoke of "a most urgent need to act" and called on Germany's leading political parties to quickly come to agreement in current coalition talks to give the country orientation. "We need quick decisions, we need clear decisions, so that we know where things are headed in the coming years," he said.

The DStGB is a public association that regularly releases position statements on issues affecting Germany's 14,000 towns and municipalities. It is headquartered in Berlin and also has offices in Brussels.

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js/jsi (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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