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Corporation under public law in Germany and Austria

A public law corporation (PLC) provides public services (at taxpayers' expense) yet is not accountable to the voters, like services provided directly by the state. This status is explicitly granted to the Church in the Austrian concordat and continued in the German one. It is an illogical category which can only be understood in terms of its history.

(German: Körperschaften des öffentlichen Rechts)

Religious organisations were made corporation under public law as a compromise between a state religion (as in England) and private religious organisations (as in France). This category was then used by Hitler to bring formerly independent organisations, such as professional bodies, under state control, which has since been relaxed..

A corporation under public law provides public services (at taxpayers' expense) yet is not accountable to the voters, like services provided directly by the state. This status is explicitly granted to the Catholic Church in the Austrian concordat and confirmed in the German one.  A public law corporation delivers public services, but is not part of the state, and governs itself. By contrast, a private law corporation, such as a non-recognised religious organisation, is basically a club which enjoys the constitutionally-guaranteed right to religious freedom, but not the special rights of a public corporation. 

This puts recognised religious organisations into a ragbag of German and Austrian bodies containing "social security institutions" ("Sozialversicherungsträger) of various kinds in Germany and Austria, including health insurance, pension insurance and accident insurance, as well as an assortment of professional and trade groups, some government-subsidised media and even assorted clubs like the Hunting Association (Jagdgenossenschaft)

Religious communities that have the status of a "corporation under public law" must "fulfil certain requirements, including an assurance of permanency and an indispensable loyalty to the state". This status,

 among other things, entitles them to levy taxes on their members that are collected by the state for the church. The decision to grant "public law corporation" status is made at the state level [i.e., at the level of the 16 individual states making up the Federal Republic of Germany]. State governments also subsidize various institutions affiliated with such public law corporations, such as schools and hospitals. (US State Department Human Rights Report on Germany, 1998)

In Germany the criteria for a public law corporation have been so unclear that that Jehovah's Witnesses (who are fiercely resented by the Catholic Church for their missionising) had to fight all the way to the highest tribunal (the Federal Constitutional Court) to finally in 2000 become a public corporation in some of the German states. As of 2010 about 180 religious groups had been granted this status. The exception was the Muslims, the impediment was apparently the lack of a central organisation with which German governments could negotiate. (International Religious Freedom Report 2010).

The favoured status of a corporation under public lawis insisted upon in both the 1933 German concordat (art. 13) and the and Austrian one of the same year (art. 2).

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