We saw a preview of the upcoming change of guard in German politics this week.
Following an acrimonious summit between Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 federal states at the beginning of this week, the Chancellor announced an extension of the partial lockdown until 18 April, as well as a tightening of restrictions from 1-5 April, dubbed ‘Osterruhe’ (English: Easter rest).
However, on Tuesday, Merkel made a rare public apology after being forced to abandon the five-day hard lockdown just 33 hours after announcing it, saying the plans had been her mistake, “and mistakes should be called out as such”.
“I asked people today to forgive me for a mistake. This was the right thing to do, I believe. I also have the support of the whole federal government and parliament,” Merkel told public broadcaster ARD.
As Merkel left the studio, Green leader Annalena Baerbock was interviewed after her. The Greens were the only party that has not joined the calls for a confidence vote.
It was a remarkable admission, particularly because asking for forgiveness has seldom, if ever, been part of Merkel’s repertoire.
Merkel has never admitted to any mistakes over a big policy decision she has taken – not on the migration crisis, the nuclear phase-out, and so far not during this pandemic, despite the German government being continuously under fire for its crisis management.
Growing frustration with the government’s heavy handed decision-making, mask scandals and slow vaccine roll-out is threatening to damage Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) ahead of the September general election.
The apology could be seen as a smart tactical move. By saying mea culpa Merkel took the wind from out of the sails of her critics, while at the same time receiving praise from the public and politicians alike. After all, humility tends to play well in the court of public opinion.
But the apology also underscores three things: Firstly, it exposes the helplessness of a national government’s crisis management in the face of a pandemic, which could be followed by ever-faster dwindling confidence in political decisions.
Second, it shows that despite Merkel leaving politics for good, it’s an attempt to repair the image of the party with honesty. For the CDU, the September election result will be highly dependent on how this pandemic has been dealt with by the government. And so far, it isn’t going great. The party is sliding in public opinion polls.
And in the end, it’s about legacy and the plain fact that Merkel is on the way out. The last impression is always decisive. In politics, often enough, an apology often ends in a resignation – something Merkel does not have to worry about any more.
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EU leaders have endorsed the European Commission’s mechanism to authorise the export of vaccine doses outside Europe before shipment, though remaining cautious on its use, while the bloc promoted its current track record as the world’s main vaccine exporter.
They also said the EU is ready to boost cooperation with Turkey if a “current de-escalation is sustained”, they said in a video summit following a spike in tensions.
EU lawmakers are picking up the pace in their race against the clock to have vaccine certificates ready for the summer, although a number of technical problems remain to be addressed.
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EU-Africa relations should prioritise healthcare as part of a new partnership of equals, EU lawmakers said as they set out their priorities for talks on a strategic partnership between the two continents.
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A decision by France’s top court to annul the obligation to label the origin of milk has provoked outrage in France. Dairy farmers and politicians are particularly sour about the move, calling it an “unacceptable step backwards.”
Bolstered by its own commercial production of seeds, Croatia has become one of the top EU countries for organic agricultural production. But organic farmers now fear that the introduction of a new Seed Act may jeopardise this.
Look out for…
A quiet week before Easter break.
Views are the author’s