Originally planned as a routine meeting, suddenly there is a crunch between Merkel and the country leaders. The federally governed republic is looking for the right mode of work in the pandemic. Dispute is also a form of exchange.
By Tom Schneider, ARD capital studio
When all the tension was gone in the evening, Michael Müller suddenly stood happily in the foyer of the Federal Chancellery. “I was amazed at which corners of the capital Angela Merkel knows her way around,” says Michael Müller about the hours of negotiations. Apparently, the Chancellor had previously scored with insider knowledge when it came to the situation of getting food at Berlin kebab snack bars.
But the talks were preceded by a dispute that at times seemed bitter. In fact, the afternoon meeting had never been designed to bring up overly contentious subjects. It should be about a first analysis after a good two weeks under the new corona restrictions. But suddenly you were already deeply involved in the differences of opinion. Angela Merkel was definitely not enough with the tender plant of a slightly flattened pandemic. And this feeling evidently got so out of hand that later on Sunday evening a draft resolution suddenly circulated in Berlin’s government district, which, among other things, contained significantly stricter contact restrictions. Origin of the proposal: The Chancellery.
“Disproportionate measures “
“I want to say that quite frankly,” admits Merkel in the evening, “it is true that the federal government and I personally pushed hard.” So much that some country bosses pulled the emergency brake that morning. “This is not a proposal that has been discussed or agreed with the federal states,” tweeted Manuela Schwesig, Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. With regard to children, young people and school, the proposed measures are disproportionate. “The actions of the Chancellery lead to uncertainty instead of a common orientation for the population,” said the SPD politician.
But what the countries disliked was apparently not so much the basic signal that further contact restrictions might be necessary to curb the still high levels of new infections. What upset the minister-presidents across all parties was the impression that the federal government apparently wanted to attempt to govern with the far-reaching paper in clear areas of competence of the federal states.
Bow shot for the Chancellor
“The prime ministers and thus the state governments are not an agency of the Federal Chancellery,” Thuringia’s head of government Bodo Ramelow said in view of the course of events even in the evening. “We shouldn’t treat each other like that, my 15 colleagues and I made that clear today,” said the left-wing politician. And Markus Söder, his CSU colleague from Bavaria, who is otherwise quite a fan of the tough pace, comments: “That could have been done a little more elegantly today.”
In the end, the Chancellor was shot in the bow: What the federal and state governments are now envisaging in terms of personal contact restrictions for the pre-Christmas period is initially nothing but a recommendation. Merkel would have preferred binding announcements here. Your suggestions for limiting the pandemic in schools were even deleted from the decision paper at noon.
Ramp for new restrictions
And this, although the Prime Ministers have little doubt that more measures are necessary to bring the infection rate back to the magical value of 50 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days. Berlin’s governing mayor describes the situation in intensive care units in the capital as “depressing”. “For the first time, 1,000 corona intensive care patients are being treated here at the same time,” said Michael Müller. “So the increasing infections have a very clear impact on the situation in the intensive care units.” And Markus Söder adds: “I have little hope that everything will be fine again at the end of November.”
In the end, the Chancellor seems to want to use the dispute and the reconciliation with the country chiefs primarily as a ramp: For the bitter truth that closer to the end of the year, stricter corona restrictions are likely to threaten again. “We have to be sure that we can reach 50 with new infections again,” insists the Chancellor. And Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil also sees the next federal-state meeting in a week as having a high probability “that a lot of the recommendations will be implemented in current law today.”
In the end, Merkel admits that there is still a lot of need for coordination with the countries until then. To do this, she wants to change the method that failed so badly today: “Now we want to know: What happens if the countries make the proposals.” Markus Söder is standing next to him and just can’t suppress his grin. “I’m not quite sure yet whether we can really get any further this way.”
The Chancellor is not angry about the daily routine when she strolls towards the elevator with Söder and Müller after work. “Sooo, see you next week”, she says goodbye with a broad Brandenburg accent.