In a rare admission for a high-level politician, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday asked the German people for forgiveness over her Government’s attempt to impose a strict five-day Easter lockdown less than 36 hours prior.
The saga began when the latest instalment of the hours-long (virtual) meeting of the Ministerpräsidentenkonferenz (MpK), the body in which Chancellor Merkel and the country’s 16 State Premiers regularly meet and have been designing and managing the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic since its breakout in March 2020, decided in the early hours of Tuesday that Germany would return into a hard but short lockdown over the Easter holidays.
In order to manage a recent rise in infections, the agreement between the Chancellor and her State Premiers included for the general measures in place to be extended, while, for the period if 1 – 5 April the country would in essence be completely shut down. This would have included all shops to be closed, including grocery shops which would only be permitted to open on Saturday, religious ceremonies to be cancelled, as well as further restrictions on people’s ability to gather in person.
While the agreement was designed to stop the rising exponential growth of cases in Germany, it was received with almost universal criticism upon its announcement. While the Bundestag attacked Germany’s version of the European Council as intransparent and called for decisions to be discussed in public, industry criticised the decision as unworkable and inapplicable in such a short time. Religious and civil society groups, meanwhile, criticised the continued deep infringements on peoples’ personal freedoms.
Many are also becoming increasingly frustrated over what are becoming more and more inconsistent COVID response policies, such as a ban on domestic travel and holidays within Germany, while flights to Spain’s Mallorca booked out in hours following the Foreign Office removing the island from its list of risk areas.
In the end, following an emergency videoconference with the country’s 16 State Premiers Wednesday morning, Chancellor Merkel, who is set to leave the political stage in September, took the political responsibility, saying that “this mistake was mine, and mine alone.” Putting herself in front of the 16 regional leaders, she emphasised that as a Head of Government, when a mistake has been made, it must be named as such and, above all, corrected “and if possible, it has to be done in good time.”
Speaking to the Bundestag yesterday morning, she once again defended the epidemiological necessity of the measures but acknowledged that they had missed their proportionality.
Faced with calls from the far-right AFD (ID), liberal FDP (Renew Europe) and far-left Linke (The Left) for a vote of confidence in her Government over its failed COVID crisis management, including the lacklustre vaccine roll-out, Merkel refused to do so.
She also, once again defended the European Commission’s vaccine purchases on behalf of the Member States but admitted that the vaccine roll-out had been too slow, partly because of the tried and tested German “virtue of thoroughness” and reliance on bureaucracy, both of which now need to be supplemented by “more flexibility.”
This sentiment was somewhat shared by her French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, who told Greek TV Wednesday night that one of the reasons EU countries are a bit behind in the vaccine roll-out was their failure to “shoot for the stars” and believe that they had more time as “all the experts said that] no vaccine was developed in less than a year.”