German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference following video discussions with federal heads of governments on vaccination strategy at the Federal Chancellery on March 23, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.
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LONDON – A third wave of the coronavirus pandemic has piled up more political troubles over Chancellor Angela Merkel and her ruling CDU party as the country nears federal elections later this year.
Germany was initially widely praised for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, skillfully dealing with the initial outbreak in the country by isolating cases and tracing contacts, while its modern, well-equipped hospitals helped keep deaths low.
A year later, and the situation is very different, with Europe’s largest economy facing a third wave of infections, a rising death toll and allegations of mismanagement of the health crisis directed at the government.
On Wednesday, Merkel caused a sensation by reversing a plan to blockade the country over the Easter holidays, saying she had made a “mistake.” This came after criticism from health experts and business leaders, who said the proposal could do more harm than good.
The concession comes as experts reflect on Germany’s handling of the pandemic and analyze how the ruling Christian Democratic Union-Christian Social Union parties could be affected when Germans cast their votes in the federal elections in September.
Merkel’s CDU party has already fared poorly in recent state elections, indicating that it could be punished again later in the year by voters drifting toward center-left Social Democrats and, in particular, Green environmentalists, whose support has increased remarkably.
“Mismanagement hurts,” Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, said in a note Thursday.
“Last March, a clever response to the pandemic sent Chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU / CSU support almost to the stratosphere.” But he added that while Germany handled the first wave of the pandemic better than most other developed countries, “this is no longer the case.”
“Confusing policy changes and slow vaccination progress have now undermined public confidence in the CDU / CSU’s capabilities, which has led government for most of postwar history, including the last 15 years, to guide Germany through the crisis, “he noted. .
Schmieding noted that a bribery scandal involving members of Parliament from the CDU-CSU had resonated with the public, and polls showed a drop in support for the CDU-CSU back to pre-pandemic levels. “Merkel’s U-turn from an ‘Easter closure’ may compound problems, ” added.
What goes wrong?
A drop in popularity for the CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU, comes as questions remain about who will be in charge of Germany’s government in September, when Merkel’s last term in office ends. The CDU-CSU has not yet said which candidate it will present for the election.
Merkel’s U-turn on Wednesday was unusual given that she has long been seen as a steady hand in times of crisis. The move showed that the German government is also feeling the pressure of having to make difficult decisions amid a rapidly evolving pandemic situation.
Following the U-turn on Wednesday, Merkel rejected opposition demands to ask Parliament for a vote of confidence in her government.
Germany has recorded more than 2.7 million cases and 75,498 deaths, to date, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, much lower than that of the United Kingdom. This compares with 4.3 million cases in the UK and more than 126,621 deaths.
The country had started easing closure measures recently, allowing schools to reopen in February and some non-essential stores to admit customers again earlier this month. Like other European nations, it relied on the launch of coronavirus vaccines to allow it to slowly reopen its economy, the largest in Europe.
Germany is not alone in having to adjust its plans; Italy will re-impose a national blockade during the Easter period for the second year in a row, while Paris and other parts of France are again under a partial blockade.
Public tolerance for renewed closed closures could be higher if the vaccine launch were as planned in the EU. But overall, immunization programs across the bloc reveal a rocky rate of vaccinations.
EU leaders met virtually on Thursday to discuss whether to block EU vaccine exports, while other countries like the UK move forward with their programs. Earlier Thursday, Merkel defended the EU’s strategy of procuring vaccines as a bloc, rather than individually.
“Now that we see that even small differences in the distribution of vaccines provoke big discussions, I would not like to imagine if some member states had vaccines and others did not. That would shake the domestic market to the core,” he told German lawmakers. from the EU summit, Reuters reported.
He also suggested that the region’s vaccination problems had more to do with lower production capacity than an insufficient order for vaccines.
“British production sites are manufacturing for Britain and the United States is not exporting, so we are dependent on what we can do in Europe,” he said. “We have to assume that the virus, with its mutations, may be occupying us for a long time, so the question goes well beyond this year,” he added.