Expat Essentials

New laws across Europe include 100km speed limit on Dutch ‘fast’ roads

Believe it or not, there’s a new-law season in Europe when new legislation passed the previous year takes effect, and that’s usually from January into April of the following year.

TwentyTwenty is a particularly busy time with new laws kicking in from Portugal to Switzerland. And this post will be updated, because we probably missed some important changes that affect our expats.

Belgium

Belgium is working on going green in a hurry.

New laws for 2020 include a ban on synthetic weed killers (Roundup and the like) and a ban on disposable cups at events, school parties and festivals in Flanders, the part of Belgium bordering the Netherlands. Starting in 2022, single-use plates and cutlery will also be banned. Also, certain types of high-polluting diesel cars – generally built before 2005 – will be banned from the center of Brussels starting in April.

Finally, sit down for this one … the prices of Belgian beers are going up. Overall, AB InBev – based in Leuven – will by law increase prices by two cents per glass. 

France

Anti-waste law

France just passed an ambitious anti-waste law with 130 separate articles. Most of the media coverage has focused on the law ending the practice of couture houses literally throwing out a billion dollars’ worth of luxury goods, forcing them and cosmetics companies to donate or recycle the overruns. Also in this legislation are rules to try to reduce one-use packaging.

New language requirements for citizenship

France just passed a law requiring applicants for French citizenship to take a written exam in addition to oral exams. With the oral exams, you have to prove you can speak at the B1 level – codified by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – necessary to cope in French with whatever comes up at work, at school or in day-to-day life. Now you have to be able to read and write to that level as well. The law kicks in next month.

Germany

Skilled workers welcome

Really good news for our highly skilled internationals. After decades of saying they didn’t need foreign workers, German officials woke up one day to discover their economy is short about 1 million skilled workers. Ooops.

So a law that took effect 1 March makes it easier for skilled workers outside the European Union to immigrate to Germany. Okay, so who is a “skilled worker?” It used to be only people with professional certifications and university degrees qualified. Now, if you have a trade or skill, that might gain you entrée to Europe’s biggest economy.

Medical doctors, people with medical/healthcare training and IT talents are no longer required to have German-certified training if they can prove they have at least five years of professional experience.

Go to the “Make it in Germany” website for all the details. Also see a detailed Deutsche Welle post here outlining the changes.

Immunization required

As of 1 March, if your kids attend a German school, you must now prove your children have been inoculated against measles under a new law meant to boost vaccination rates.

If you can’t, you face a 2,500 euro fine and you’ll have to make alternative education plans because homeschooling is not allowed.

No more speed-camera apps

Speed camera apps, including Waze, are now completely banned in Germany, though Google and other companies are trying to find a way around the law.

Italy

New for 2020, fines for using hand-held cell phones while driving in Italy will more than double to 400 euros from 165 euros. Drivers caught talking on their cell phones could have their licenses suspended for between seven and 30 days. Repeat violators could lose their licenses for up to three months.

Also, cars registered in Italy, including rental cars, must be fitted with alarms that sound when a child is left unattended in a car.

Netherlands

Speed-limit reduction

When we first heard last November about the new law in the Netherlands lowering the speed limit on fast roads to 100 kilometers per hour from 130 kph, our first response was, “Seriously?” Knowing the car-loving Dutch, we were sure this would never go into effect.

But on 16 March, the law goes into effect, and there’s a big fine for anyone caught on speed cameras going faster. The move is a bid to cut nitrogen-based pollution and take the cap off construction bans.

The good news is, this is only during the day, starting at 6 a.m. and ending at 7 p.m. The bad news is, during the day we can look forward to getting passed by electric bikes riding next to the A2.

New rules for on-call workers in the Netherlands

There are a lot of new rules for on-call workers including a rule that states the worker doesn’t have to take an assignment if it comes with less than four days notice. And companies can’t employ a person for more than one year as an on-call employee. After 12 months, employers have to offer them a fixed-hours contract.

You can see all the on-call labor rules here.

Tour guides will no longer be able to lead groups through Amsterdam’s Red Light District or anywhere in the city where there are sex-worker windows.

Portugal

Portugal is reigning in its Golden Visa program, basically because it’s been too successful. Portuguese authorities voted to limit the visas based on real estate purchases, especially on the coast in Lisbon and Porto.

Only real estate investments (minimum of 350,000 euros) inland, as well as autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira, will get you that visa and freedom of movement across Schengen. The changes are designed to promote investment in low-density regions and to relieve the real estate bubbles in Lisbon and Porto, according to Euractive.

Just when the changes go into effect isn’t clear, with the Portuguese government assuring investors current deals will happen.

Switzerland

Switzerland is the land of ever-changing laws and ordinances. There are so many changes for 2020 that we couldn’t list them all. That said, SwissInfo.Ch has a good round-up of changes that include:

• Spot fines are no longer limited to traffic violations. You can now be fined up to 300 Swiss francs (281 euros) for smoking in public, smoking dope in public, talking on your cell phone while biking or hauling around your SIG 550 SG assault rifle improperly in your vehicle. (This is Switzerland, where people are required to keep automatic weapons as the entire population is basically the Swiss armed forces.)

• By law, the minimum download speed for the Swiss national internet service must be 10 megabits per second, up from 3 Mbit/s. Which Dispatches totally supports.

• There are also prohibitions on bringing in certain types of plants, vegetables and stuff made from endangered woods.

Bonus

Kind of weird laws you don’t know about (but must be real because they’re on the Internet.)

• If you’re going on vacation to Spain, remember to pack a spare pair of glasses. Spanish law requires you to have TWO pairs with you if it states on your driver’s license that you need them to see.

You can’t take a photo of the Eiffel Tower at night for commercial use. During the day, that’s fine because the Parisian landmark entered into the public domain in 1993, 70 years after the death of Gustave Eiffel. But the lights … the lights are a different matter because they were installed in 1985 and won’t enter the public domain until 2055. All this because the tower falls under French copyright law, which considers buildings the same as works of art.

To which we can only say, “Vous-vous fichez de moi?”

• If you’re in Germany, note there’s a hedge trimming ban now from 1 March to 30 September. This is meant to give hedge-dwelling animals and birds a break from human intrusion.

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