31 October 2019
Blockchain technology is currently a much-discussed topic: Bitcoin, Libra, smart contracting to name just a few buzzwords everyone is aware of. The technology has the potential to disrupt traditional industries and Germany intends to play a pioneering role in this new emerging era.
Blockchain Economy in Berlin
Numerous blockchain start-ups have settled in Europe’s crypto capital Berlin. Due to favorable infrastructural and regulatory conditions, Germany and Berlin in particular are an ideal location for companies in the blockchain industry, many of which already operate and conduct research there. Lots of them are working on blockchain-based solutions for accelerated and safe document dispatch, smart contracting or creation of digital identity, including safe registration possibilities. Investors from all over the world are financing Berlin-based blockchain start-ups, some of them even already through crypto investments (initial coin offerings) using the new blockchain technology itself.
The Berlin ecosystem seems to be open-minded to the new technology. Several restaurants, bars, retailers and boutiques already accept virtual currency as means of payment. Even large German companies are also taking advantage of the technology. For example, Daimler and automotive supplier Duerr have recently completed a transaction via the blockchain-based platform Marco Polo, which enables processes to be significantly simplified and accelerated through smart contracts.
The Current Regulatory Environment
Berlin’s courts also appear to be crypto-currency friendly. Last year, for example, the Berlin Supreme Court denied the German Federal Agency for Financial Market Supervision (BaFin) the jurisdiction to regulate bitcoin based crypto business models. As a result, crypto currency business models (at least those based on bitcoin) are, unlike traditional financial services, not subject to permission by the BaFin and thus experience some regulatory freedom for now.
The German Government’s Blockchain Strategy
The German Federal Government has recognized the great potential of blockchain technology in its recently adopted blockchain strategy  (TW convenience translation of the German Government’s Blockchain strategy). According to this strategy, blockchain innovation will be heavily promoted, supported and funded and investments initiated and attracted. In particular, the development of blockchain technology in the financial sector will be supported by liberalizing German law in order to facilitate electronic securities. Public offering of certain crypto tokens will be regulated and legal certainty for trading platforms and crypto depositories shall be ensured.
The strategy prospects a clear regulation for crypto-currency business models in the financial sector which should add predictability and reliability for entrepreneurs and investors. Crypto-trading and respective fintech companies will be treated as financial services and will thus be subject to the regulation of the BaFin which is going to improve trust in and acceptance of the blockchain industry significantly. To further support innovation, the German Government promotes an “Industry 4.0 Regulatory Testbed”. Start-ups shall be able to develop and test their products, especially those revolving around smart contracts, in an experimental, less regulated environment.
The governmental authorities furthermore intend to act as role models by integrating blockchain technology into their processes. Personal appointments with the authorities, for example, are planned to be replaced by electronic proof of identity. The government is also making special efforts to subsidize climate-friendly and sustainable projects. Plans include the introduction of corporate blockchain bonds and shares (as opposed to the current regulation stipulating that bonds/shares must be in paper form). That could even lead to the introduction of new corporate forms with corporate shares in token form.
However, the German Government plans to work at European and international level to ensure that stablecoins will not become an alternative to state currencies.