German Chancellor Angela Merkel confirmed that she does not have the support among her country’s state leaders for new restrictions to give Germany’s “soft” lockdown a harder bite. This has led to the postponing any decision until a future meeting between the Chancellor and 16 state premiers next week.
What New Restrictions Did Merkel Want?
According to the Guardian, Merkel had been in favor of people limiting social interactions in private and foregoing any type of party until Christmas Eve.
The plans were also reported to include a seven-day quarantine for citizens, and stricter hygiene requirements at schools, with teachers and students of all year groups asked to wear face masks during lessons.
Germany entered a partial lockdown on November 2, with contacts reduced to a maximum of two households and no more than 10 people, restaurants and bars restricted to takeaway service only, and unnecessary travel discouraged but not prohibited. Schools and nurseries have remained open.
Merkel’s Authority has been Weakened
The Berlin Spectator reported that Bavaria’s First Minister Markus Söder did not sound too optimistic about the Chancellor’s claims that “everything would be fine” regarding COVID-19’s spread. Söder also defended Bavaria’s school rules which make it compulsory for primary school kids in the federal state to wear face coverings.
Söder is reportedly worried that the coronavirus may spread further on New Year’s Eve due to the “wild parties” that many Germans normally hold to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
Other state premiers wanted to “wait and see” whether the so-called “second wave” of the coronavirus slows down before they agree to any new measures.
Merkel Has Become Focused on Economic Recovery
But Merkel has deeper concerns beyond COVID-19. She fears that the virus is crippling Germany’s economic recovery, and that is why she wanted to use her optimism to her advantage during the meeting she held with German state leaders, to sell her latest lockdown measures. She stressed to them that a recovery in Europe’s biggest economy will gather pace once the pandemic is under control, but how long that takes remains yet to be seen.
Bloomberg suggested that Germany’s economy is likely to stagnate at best in the final quarter of this year. The Bundesbank added on Monday that the country’s export sector is suffering from a resurgence of the virus. On balance, it expects the hit to the economy to be smaller than after the lockdown in March and April.
Either way, Merkel’s latest dispute with her state premiers shows the fine line that the Chancellor is treading in trying to slow the virus without stoking political, economic and social tensions.
Merkel is no doubt conscious that she is stepping down next year, and she is possibly worried that the opposition of Germany’s state leaders to her latest lockdown restrictions will hinder her authority during the Chancellor’s final days in office.
The German Government is Treading a Fine Line
A second round of talks with state premiers will now take place on November 25, days before the current restrictions are due to expire. From Merkel’s perspective, this is a meeting that must result in a successful outcome for her, in order to prevent her credibility from being damaged further.
There is no doubt that the Chancellor did not want to spend her final days dealing with the coronavirus, but Germany’s state premiers are right to argue that it makes no sense to impose more lockdown measures without sufficient evidence that there is a second wave.
Lockdowns are arguably more deadly than COVID-19 itself, and there is no data yet to suggest how many people have died as a result of the closure of Germany’s economy. A UK Government report found that Britain’s lockdown may cost 200,000 lives. It would be pertinent to see if Germany is projected to experience a similar outcome.
German politicians now need to ask themselves how can they move beyond this current impasse, because the Chancellor cannot remain stuck in limbo forever.