Chancellor Angela Merkel takes part in a press conference after discussing the vaccination strategy in the Federal Chancellery with the heads of government by video on March 23, 2021 in Berlin.
Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images
LONDON – A third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has created more political problems for Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling CDU party as the country nears the federal elections later this year.
Germany was initially widely lauded for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, skillfully handling the country’s first outbreak, isolating cases and tracking contacts, while its modern and well-equipped hospitals helped keep the death toll low.
A year later, and the situation is very different: Europe’s largest economy is facing a third wave of infections, a rising death toll and allegations of mismanagement of the health crisis directed against the government.
On Wednesday, Merkel made waves by reversing a plan to lock the country down during the Easter vacation, saying she made a “mistake”. It did so after criticism from health experts and business leaders who said the proposal could do more harm than good.
The concession comes when experts think about how Germany is dealing with the pandemic and investigate how the ruling parties of the Christian Democratic Union and the Christian Social Union could be affected if the Germans cast their votes in a federal election in September.
Merkel’s CDU party has already done poorly in the recent state elections, suggesting that it could be punished again later in the year by voters who are wrong against the center-left Social Democrats, and especially the environmentalist Greens, their support has increased significantly.
“Mismanagement hurts,” commented Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, in a note on Thursday.
“Last March, a clever reaction to the pandemic almost brought Chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU / CSU into the stratosphere.” But he added that while Germany weathered the first wave of the pandemic better than most other industrialized countries, “it is no longer the case”.
“Confusing political changes and slow vaccination progress have now undermined public confidence in the ability of the CDU / CSU, which led the government to steer Germany through the crisis for much of its post-war history, including the past 15 years,” noted he
Schmieding noted that a kickback scandal involving CDU-CSU MPs had met with public approval. Surveys showed that support for the CDU-CSU had returned to pre-pandemic levels. “Merkel’s U-turn from an ‘Easter shutdown’ could exacerbate the suffering, ” he added.
A decline in the popularity of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, is due to the fact that in September, when Merkel’s last term of office comes to an end, the question of who will head the German government remains open. The CDU-CSU has not yet said which candidate it will propose for election.
Merkel’s U-turn on Wednesday was unusual, as she was considered a firm hand in times of crisis for a long time. The move showed that the federal government is also under pressure to have to make difficult decisions in a fast-moving pandemic situation.
After the U-turn on Wednesday, Merkel rejected demands by the opposition to ask parliament for a vote of confidence in her government.
According to the Johns Hopkins University, Germany has now recorded more than 2.7 million cases and 75,498 deaths. This is far less than the UK. Compared to 4.3 million cases in the UK and over 126,621 deaths.
The country recently started easing lockdown measures, allowing schools to reopen in February and some unneeded stores to resume customers earlier this month. As in other European countries, the company relied on coronavirus vaccines to slowly reopen its largest economy in Europe.
Germany is not the only one who has to adjust its plans. Italy will impose a national lockdown for the second consecutive year during Easter, while Paris and other parts of France are again partially locked.
Public tolerance of re-locks could be higher if the introduction of vaccines in the EU is planned. Overall, however, vaccination programs in the entire block show a changeable vaccination rate.
EU leaders practically met on Thursday to discuss whether to block EU vaccine exports as other countries like the UK push their programs forward. On the previous Thursday, Merkel had defended the EU’s strategy of not purchasing vaccines individually, but as a block.
“Now that we see that even small differences in the distribution of vaccines are causing big debates, I don’t want to imagine if some Member States had vaccines and others didn’t. That would shake the internal market to the core,” she told German lawmakers Reuters reported on the EU summit.
She also suggested that vaccination problems in the area had more to do with lower production capacity than under-ordering shots.
“British factories don’t produce for the UK and the US doesn’t export, so we rely on what we can make in Europe,” she said. “We have to assume that the virus with its mutations may well occupy us for a long time, so that the question extends well beyond this year,” she added.