If, after the great, almost limitless relief, there had to be one certainty, it was that no one in Germany with decency and understanding would weep a tear after the 45th President of the USA. Donald Trump thought little of old allies, and he thought particularly little of Germany. He punished it with insults, with threats and with Richard Grenell, whom he sent to Berlin as an ambassador for his wickedness. The Germans have every reason to join in the global sighs of the Democrats after Joe Biden has finally moved into the White House, which is now back on the “foundation of shared convictions”, as Chancellor Angela Merkel put it.
The Washington celebration of democracy touched many, including in Germany. But how long will it be before one or the other secretly mourns years that were terrible, but also terribly comfortable? Trump, with all his hatred and madness, often asked German politicians little more than to take cover. It will be different with Joe Biden. For him, Berlin will be one of the top addresses when looking for supporters. In Trump’s world, alliance obligations were reduced to what can be expressed in dollars. Biden will ask a lot more from Germany than to keep the old promise to increase defense spending.
China, Russia, the battle of the systems – huge tasks await
This NATO goal, supported by Germany, of increasing the defense budget of all member states to at least two percent of economic power, is nevertheless often cited as an example of why there will also be trouble with the new president. That is true, because even Biden will not see that Germany has scaled down its ambitions. But what should change is the German attitude. NATO would have survived four more years of Trump only poorly. Holding Biden off for four years will not do her well either. The more the US turns to dangers from China, the more European NATO will have to become.
The choice is easier than is often done: Either rely on the alliance with the US and a defensive NATO or on the peace oaths of Vladimir Putin of all people. The prevailing opinion among parts of the SPD and the Greens that there is something in between sounds like a daring experiment. The SPD has never really translated this into government action, and presumably the Greens will not either. So far there is still a consensus that decoupling from America would not make Europe safer, which is why the Germans in particular should be happy to have a friend in the White House again.
Biden, in turn, will have to rely on allies who outgrow the role of junior partner. This has to do with the enormous task of moral and economic reconstruction in the United States itself. But it is also related to a geopolitical situation that has little in common with the time immediately after the Cold War. This situation is determined by the rise of China, the power games of Russia, a now often described competition of the great powers, but also the self-assertion of the democracies in the struggle of the systems. For Trump, as a despiser of democracy, this fight was uninteresting, but Biden will want to lead it – also and above all with the Europeans.
Germany has to take a new path – for its own sake and for Europe
This leads directly out of the German comfort zone, in which good business does not seem to cloud the good conscience. Angela Merkel has mastered the art of holding her protective hand over both the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and the big pipeline deal with the Kremlin company Gazprom. The EU’s investment agreement with China, which was lashed down shortly before Biden’s assumption of office, despite the draconian Hong Kong policy, also bears Merkel’s signature.
There are now two options for German politics. She can continue muddling through under new, more personable omens. Happy that US soldiers are not being withdrawn. Breathe a sigh of relief not to be insulted all the time Enjoy predictability. Otherwise, wait and see what Biden can actually do. The restrained euphoria with which Merkel commented on the historic change of government in the United States is in line with her nature, but also gives rise to fears that this is exactly what will happen in the next few months.
However, that would then be a safe method of missing out on an opportunity that many people no longer believed in. Biden’s appeal to pull yourself together extends well beyond America, and maybe it wouldn’t hurt to be a little infected by his emotions. That would be the second possibility. Now is the time to forge an alliance for democracy and common sense. Without them, the world will not be the world Europeans would like to live in after the pandemic.
IIn Germany, more than 20,000 new infections with the coronavirus were recorded within one day. As the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announced on Thursday morning, citing information from the health authorities, a further 20,398 cases of infection were registered. The total number of proven corona infections in Germany since the beginning of the pandemic rose to 2,088,400.
According to the RKI, 1013 deaths in connection with coronavirus infections were also counted within 24 hours. The total number of corona deaths recorded in Germany increased to 49,783. This includes both people who died directly from the illness caused by the virus and people with previous illnesses who were infected with the coronavirus and for whom the exact cause of death cannot be conclusively proven. The number of people recovered from a corona infection in Germany put the RKI on Thursday at around 1,762,200.
Highest incidence in Thuringia, lowest in Bremen
The RKI gave the so-called 7-day incidence on Thursday morning at 119.0 – the lowest value since November 1. The 7-day incidence, i.e. the number of new infections reported to the health authorities per 100,000 inhabitants and week, had fallen continuously over the past ten days. It had reached its previous high just before Christmas (December 22nd) with 197.6. However, the differences between the federal states are large: Thuringia has the highest incidences with 225.0 and Brandenburg with 203.3. Bremen has the lowest value with 76.6.
The federal and state governments are striving to reduce the 7-day incidence to below 50 in order to bring the virus under control and to relieve the health system. When the lockdown measures were extended, Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized that this goal was achievable and urgently needed to protect against the spread of the more infectious virus mutations.
Now it should go very quickly. On Wednesday, the Federal Cabinet nodded the Sars-CoV2 occupational health and safety ordinance submitted by Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD), and it should come into force on Wednesday. This obliges employers, among other things, to offer employees working in office or comparable jobs from home.
The Ministry of Labor does not know exactly how widespread the home office is in the current lockdown. According to a non-representative study by the Hans Böckler Foundation, in November only 14 percent of employees were mainly working from home. During the first lockdown in April, it was 27 percent.
Since the possibilities for further contact restrictions and additional infection protection measures are largely exhausted in many areas of life, “additional and time-limited measures of occupational health and safety are indispensable as contributions to the health protection of employees”, says the regulation.
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In addition to the obligation to work from home, the following also applies: If several colleagues work together in one room, each must have an area of ten square meters. This already shows that it is no longer possible to work en masse in the open-plan office, emphasized Heil.
If the minimum distance and space requirements cannot be guaranteed, the employer must ensure the safety of the employees through ventilation measures or partition walls. In companies with more than ten employees, according to the regulation, the workforce should also be divided into the smallest possible working groups. Wherever minimum distances cannot be maintained, the employer is also obliged to provide medical masks.
Compared to the original ministerial draft, the regulation, which is to apply until March 15, has been weakened again. In Corona hotspots with an incidence of over 200 new infections, Heil originally provided for compulsory weekly testing for workforces in companies where at least 50 employees regularly meet.
This has been deleted again. The federal and state governments are pursuing a comprehensive test strategy, said Heil, but this is also a question of capacity for tests and staff. It was agreed that extensive testing should first be carried out in old people’s homes.
What do the new resolutions mean for companies and employees? The Handelsblatt gives answers to the most important questions.
1. Can the boss still insist that employees come to the office?
In most cases not. The ordinance states that employees must be offered an offer to work from home “if there are no compelling operational reasons”. These are not defined in more detail. Heil also didn’t have a clear answer on Wednesday. “Compelling operational reasons must first be assessed by the employers themselves in the different areas.” But employers are required to look legally binding where home office is somehow possible. A lot more is possible, especially in the office.
In the eyes of Sebastian Schröder, an employment lawyer from Viersen, the wording of the regulation is a strict standard. “The bar is very high. Companies can hardly effectively reject the employees’ desire to work from home, ”said the owner of the Emplaw law firm. The employer must do everything possible to realize home office.
Induction is no longer a reason to bring employees into the company if this can also be done virtually. It looks different if employees do not have their own computer or access to the company network for a short time. That could be a temporary compelling operational reason to bring employees into the company as an exception, so Schröder.
Labor lawyer Philipp Byers from the law firm Watson Farley & Williams in Munich, on the other hand, warns of “considerable legal uncertainty among companies and employees”. Because in the regulation there is no indication of the conditions under which the employer can refer to the presence of urgent operational reasons for refusing to work from home.
2. What happens if employers refuse?
The regulation does not provide for a subjective right of action for the employee to enforce the home office against the will of the employer, says lawyer Byers. However, the employee has the option of reporting the employer to the occupational health and safety authority or the accident insurance company if, in his opinion, he is wrongly denied the option of working from home. Labor Minister Heil advises employees to first talk to their employer. “Most of the time you will find very practical options.” However, employees could also turn to the works council and “in the event of extreme conflict” to the health and safety authorities of the federal states.
3. And who controls the companies?
In companies with co-determination, the works councils would have to take a look, said Heil. There is also the possibility for employees to contact the company management directly. The health and safety authorities of the federal states, the professional associations and the accident insurance institutions have a control function. One thing is clear: “It will not be possible to control it across the board, but it will be spot checks,” said Heil.
4. Do employers have to fear sanctions if they don’t follow the rules?
In the original ministerial draft for the regulation, there was a reference to possible regulatory offenses that an employer can be guilty of. The wording that home office must be made possible “if the activity allows it” is legally so vague that it cannot easily be deduced from an administrative offense. However, should employees turn to the occupational health and safety authorities and proceedings should arise, employers certainly have to fear the consequences.
5. What actually applies if employees do not want to work from home?
Many employees currently find it difficult to work at home because the children are also at home because schools and daycare centers are closed. Sometimes the right desk, your own study or a powerful internet connection is missing. The new regulation does not prevent anyone who absolutely wants to come to the office. “The employer cannot force his employees to work from home,” explains Schröder, an employment lawyer. There is “no legal basis for this, and that would also not make sense in practical terms,” says Heil. So politics can only leave it to the employees with appeals: “We ask the employees to use the offer,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel.
6. Can I just stay in the home office?
Not without consultation. Workers have no right to stay at home preventively if they are afraid of contagion, say lawyers. Those who refuse face a warning or even termination. Because in this country there is so far no legally anchored right to work from home. Heil also said the regulation should be separated from the current political debate on the right to work from home. Employment lawyer Schröder recommends that employees seek a clarifying discussion with their bosses despite the new regulation.
7. Can I still go out to eat with my colleagues at the company?
The government has waived the originally planned ban on eating together in company canteens or tea kitchens. The current regulations are already so strict that regular canteen operations are barely possible, and most facilities only offer take-away, emphasized the labor minister. Exceptions apply, for example, in the food industry, where it is forbidden to eat in the workplace.
Employment lawyer Schröder recommends that companies make sure that employees do not meet in the tea kitchen to eat in groups. “Companies must take precautions to ensure that only employees from a maximum of two households meet in confined spaces while observing hygiene regulations.”
8. Are there any incentives to offer more home offices?
The passage in the decision paper of the federal and state governments sounds extremely unspectacular. “To further stimulate the economy and to promote digitization”, the Federal Government and the Prime Ministers decided at their Corona summit an immediate write-off for digital assets with retroactive effect from January 1, 2021. Everyone who works in the home office should benefit from this measure.
The relief is considerable, as can be seen from an internal paper of the Federal Ministry of Finance, which is available to the Handelsblatt. On Tuesday evening, the federal and state governments decided on tax relief totaling 11.7 billion euros for the years 2022 to 2026.
The new depreciation rules are intended to apply in particular to the cost of computer hardware such as printers, scanners and monitors and software. These and other assets “are no longer subject to depreciation,” says the Ministry of Finance’s paper. “Rather, the costs can be fully taken into account for tax purposes in the year of acquisition or manufacture.” A one-year useful life can be justified with increasing rapid technical progress in this segment.
In times of home office, a decent amount can quickly be collected. While there will only be tax shortfalls of 390 million euros in 2022, there will be around 4.6 billion euros in 2023 and around 3.9 billion euros in 2024.
More: Minister of Labor Heil on the home office: “Not just any appeal, but a very clear announcement”
The Chancellor and the country leaders have often argued. They also kept fighting each other. And yet Angela Merkel’s switch with the Prime Ministers on Tuesday evening was a novelty. So far, the feeling has always prevailed afterwards that the fight against the pandemic is complicated, that one is therefore always looking for the right way to fight a bit, but that politics can withstand the challenge. This time, after more than seven hours, the impression was different: Yes, we will get together again; of course, we mustn’t break up in the end. The truth is, everyone is exhausted and worn out – and they just hope that the crap will be over soon. There has hardly been so much frustration, so many discrepancies, and so much drifting apart in this body since the outbreak of the pandemic.
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However, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. Nothing about it is simply weak, stupid, or even incomprehensible. The virus and its mutations, as well as the search for solutions that do not end in radical answers, but are developed as a compromise – that was, is and remains arduous. It is of course easier for authoritarian states, which is not an alternative. Anyone who stands by democracy and wants the most important questions to be weighed and balanced between different ideas, wishes, and longings knows that everything that can currently be experienced between the federal and state levels is an acceptable consequence of life in this democracy.
The more existential the pandemic becomes, the sharper the tone becomes
In addition, everyone can not only study this in politics during these months, but has to fight with it in their own lives. The more exhausting and existential this pandemic becomes, the sharper some debate becomes, the greater some concern, the more hurtful some dispute. Be it in the family, between colleagues or among friends.
However, that doesn’t mean that everything just has to go on like this. According to the motto: Everyone complains and fights on their construction site. Rather, it would be important to make yourself and everyone else aware of what everyone is doing. No, until the outbreak of this crisis, many would not have thought it possible to withstand such restrictions – of course only in such a temporary exceptional case. And no, many would not have thought how important small signs of freedom and exchange would be if they were not possible.
What a vote of confidence in democratically elected governments
Encounters, hugs, closeness, and traveling again – as much as all of this is missing, it will hopefully be so important afterwards. This is not disguised praise for the pandemic, it is simply the hope that much of the good will move deeper into consciousness that was previously taken for granted and sometimes was no longer valued at all.
Of course, this would also mean that politicians not always only admonish, warn and fear worse. The Chancellor and the country leaders would have to make it clear what it means that between 70 and 85 percent of the population still support the course. That’s a great result. More appreciation of this would be sorely needed. Democratically elected governments could not wish for a greater vote of confidence. The pandemic has laid down on everything like a concrete slab. And yet, in the vast majority of people, it did not produce the bad, but rather a good deal of good.
AIn the coming weeks, employers must do more to enable their employees to work from home. Contrary to what was originally planned, the federal government is not pushing ahead with the implementation of home offices in the economy through stricter controls and sanctions. This provides for a new “Corona occupational health and safety regulation” from the Federal Ministry of Labor, which the Federal Cabinet approved on Wednesday.
The text that has now been adopted differs significantly from a first draft ordinance that Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) had drawn up in the run-up to the most recent federal-state consultations on tightened contact restrictions. This contained, for example, a separate paragraph on administrative offenses and fines and also provided for expanded powers for the health and safety control authorities of the federal states (FAZ of January 20).
The much shorter text of the ordinance, which has now been approved by the cabinet, only contains the key phrase on the subject of home office: “In the case of office work or comparable activities, the employer must offer employees to carry out these activities in their home if there are no compelling operational reasons.” are not named, however, they would only arise indirectly from the Occupational Safety and Health Act on which the new ordinance is based in the event of clear or gross violations of this principle.
“Team spirit and discipline” are required
Labor Minister Heil described the new regulation as follows on Wednesday: If a company does not allow employees to do their work from home, although they wanted to, they should first talk to the employer or the works council. In the “extreme case of conflict”, however, the option is of course open to them to contact the responsible occupational safety and health authorities.
“I’m not interested in torturing or kujoning companies,” said Heil. Above all, “team spirit and discipline” are required in all areas of life in order to reduce the risk of infection. “But if in doubt, the authorities will also check that,” he said. Many companies are already acting in an exemplary manner, but there is “quite a lot of room for improvement”. “These are deep interventions in the economic life of the country,” said Heil. But the measures are necessary. The aim is to reduce contacts and avoid possible infections.
The first draft ordinance, which became known on Tuesday, triggered violent indignation in the ranks of the business associations. Apparently this contributed to the fact that Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) and the state minister-presidents approved the proposal for a new regulation as such – but not in the form originally proposed with penalties and strict official orders.
Heil had angered the economy
In addition, the version that has now been adopted, based on the first draft, provides further requirements for protection against infection for areas in which the presence of employees is still necessary. This includes that a minimum area of 10 square meters per employee must generally be available in rooms. If this is not possible due to operational reasons, the employer must provide the employees with medical masks. The latter are then also obliged to wear the masks by the ordinance.
Shortly before the end, Angela Merkel speaks directly about how she sees the schools. “It is a great effort,” admits the Chancellor. “I don’t want to deny that at all.”
After Merkel has agreed with the Prime Minister to keep the schools closed, it could be up to eight weeks for many children and young people who have been at home since mid-December without seeing the inside of the classroom. That should only change sometime in February – and only maybe. On the other hand, says Angela Merkel, if you got conditions like those in London, “then we no longer talk about schools at all, but only about ambulances and overcrowded hospitals.”
London has become a kind of Bergamo New Year
It’s 10 p.m. on Tuesday evening. Again it was such a tough fight. Again the Chancellor and the Prime Ministers met for more than seven hours via video conference. The mutation of the coronavirus, B.1.1.7, now dominates all debates. And London, where the number of infections has probably exploded recently because of the new type of virus, has become a kind of Bergamo of the New Year: a chilling example to make it clear what you want to prevent at all costs.
All restrictions that already apply will be extended again. In addition: The mask requirement is tightened, in shops and on buses and trains only medical mouth and nose protection is allowed. The Chancellor said that it was “tough what we now have to expect the people to do again.” But for them and the prime ministers the principle of precaution has priority. “We took that into account today.”
Prevention. Merkel repeated this word several times in the press conference. For weeks or months you always looked at the infection numbers, the curves, the R values and the occupancy of the hospitals. It was a kind of follow-up care because, strictly speaking, all these numbers represented the previous infection history. Suddenly now the view goes forward, strictly speaking, nowhere.
Now you fight an opponent who is not really there yet. Because the new virus variant, which is said to be so much more contagious, has already been detected in Germany, but only in individual cases. And that’s exactly how it should stay.
Dealing with schools and daycare centers was the biggest problem in the video conference, again. This is one of the most sensitive issues, a particularly difficult decision. The many interests that play a role here, the good reasons for restrictions, but also the understandable concerns, are symbolic of the complicated deliberations of politics in this crisis.
Some prime ministers wanted easing for elementary schools
The Chancellor says there are “serious indications” that the mutation of the virus is spreading more widely among children and adolescents than the first variant. Therefore, the decision of December 13th is being extended, according to which schools and daycare centers are to remain closed in principle, but at least the presence requirement is no longer required. This sentence is supplemented by the wording that this decision should now be implemented “restrictively”. It’s just a word. But there was a lot going on until it was in the text at the end.
“The question is: are we playing it safe or playing it unsafe?” This is how Merkel formulates the alternative in the afternoon when point 5 is called for the first time in the video conference: schools. If it is up to her and Helge Braun, the doctor and head of the Chancellery, they should remain closed in seven days in regions with more than 50 infections per 100,000 inhabitants. “That is important to us,” says Merkel. For them it is part of the “precautionary principle”.
Several prime ministers, especially from the SPD, disagree. You take the mutation seriously, says Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil, for example. But you also have to keep an eye on possible harm to the children who cannot go to school. On the Union side, too, there are voices that aim to relax the elementary schools.
Hesse’s Prime Minister Volker Bouffier warns that the weakest are particularly affected by the consequences of the closings. Merkel receives clear support in this phase only from Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder.
There is also a dispute when it comes to home office
With a view to schools, the Chancellor is again promoting an effort, at least for a few weeks, so that we can then relax. “We all put out the fire every day,” she says, referring to particularly vulnerable groups of the population, “we are all exhausted”.
The schools are supposed to have been “generally closed” since December 15th. However, the Chancellor finds that the previous resolutions have been interpreted too lightly by some countries – too many exceptions. “We have a great deal of diversity in schools in Germany,” she complains.
After a first unsuccessful round, the topic is postponed until the end of the session. For a long time, there has been advice on how to increase the number of workers in the home office. There is the next argument. Merkel thinks that Labor Minister Hubertus Heil is always making new demands on the economy. The SPD thinks that the Union side leaves employers too easily out of responsibility. Heil explains his suggestion again so that Merkel does not become “even more bad faith”, as he says. The Chancellor replied: “I will.”
The situation escalated when Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Prime Minister Michaela Schwesig said that the opportunities for children could not be restricted, but nothing could be changed in the world of work. Merkel is said to have said that she would not be hooked on to torture children or disregard employee rights. So it reports it picture-Newspaper.
Participants confirm that the Chancellor was very angry. Other minister-presidents intervene, Malu Dreyer from Rhineland-Palatinate tries to relax and appeals that everyone should change the tone again. Schwesig tries to joke: It is time, she is quoted, that the restaurants reopened so that one could have a glass of wine together to relax.
But the battle is not yet over. In the evening the topic of school is raised a second time. Again it is about a possible opening of the primary schools. Markus Söder warns: If such a formulation is adopted, “then I will block the whole decision”. Schleswig-Holstein’s Prime Minister Daniel Günther agrees. If some countries started to open primary schools, the others would come under “massive pressure”.
Shortly after 8 p.m.: The session was interrupted. Merkel, Söder and Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller, acting chairman of the Prime Minister’s Conference, who are in the Chancellery, retire to Helge Braun’s office, while Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz is connected.
Then the agreement. Compulsory attendance remains suspended, schools are “basically closed,” restrictive implementation “until mid-February. The Chancellor reported frankly at the press conference that they had” struggled for a long time. But she believed “it was worth it.” Less than an hour later the first Prime Minister again a special way. If the number of infections allowed, says Baden-Württemberg Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann, the primary schools will gradually open from February 1st.
DThe federal government wants to extend the current corona lockdown until February 15 and tighten the protective measures in some cases. A draft resolution from the Federal Chancellery for the federal-state consultations on Tuesday afternoon provides, among other things, for the obligation to wear medical masks in local transport and in shops. Exit restrictions and a limitation of the radius of movement to 15 kilometers around the place of residence are to be extended to large parts of Germany. The document from Monday evening has now been replaced by a new draft as of 12.40 p.m. on Tuesday. Some points have been put in square brackets. This means that this passage is debatable. Both documents are available to the FAZ.
The prime ministers of the federal states would have to agree in the afternoon. It appears, however, that there is still considerable disagreement about the required measures. In particular, the SPD-led countries announced a number of requests for changes.
According to the will of the Chancellery, there is an obligation to wear medical masks in public transport and in shops. “Wearing mouth and nose covers has proven to be a particularly effective measure in the pandemic,” says the first submission, which is dated Monday evening. Everyday masks made of fabric have a worse effect than medical masks. This means both simple surgical masks and significantly more expensive FFP2 masks. In Bavaria there is already an obligation to wear FFP2 masks.
Schools should open in mid-February at the earliest
The federal government also wants to oblige companies to offer their employees to work from home as far as possible. The Federal Ministry of Labor will issue a corresponding ordinance, according to the bill.
This measure is intended to help reduce contacts in public transport. The aim is “that the number of passengers usually does not exceed a third of the regular number of passengers permitted in a means of transport”. This should enable passengers to keep a greater distance. Employers should also enable flexible working hours in order to equalize the flow of commuters.
In daycare centers and schools, the previous restrictions should remain: “Emergency care is ensured and distance learning is offered.” “Special regulations” could apply to final classes. The Chancellery advocates that schools generally only open after February 15. The entire paragraph is in square brackets and is therefore considered controversial.
In the proposal, citizens are called upon to “limit all contacts to the absolutely necessary minimum in the next three weeks and stay at home as far as possible”. Private get-togethers are “still permitted in the group of members of the own household and with a maximum of one other person not living in the household”. However, this already existing rule has been implemented differently by the federal states.
The Chancellery does not call for further tightening of contacts in the private sector in the draft. However, the states are to expand their regulations for corona hotspots, which previously apply from a seven-day incidence of 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants, to areas with an incidence over 50. This passage is also in square brackets in the second draft. There it says somewhat awkwardly: “In countries or districts which, due to their high 7-day incidence, cannot foreseeably fall below the incidence of 50 by February 15, the countries are now also below an incidence of 200 for as long and so take extensive further local or regional measures according to the Infection Protection Act, in particular exit restrictions and / or the restriction of the radius of movement to 15 km around the place of residence, so that a correspondingly rapid reduction in the number of infections is achieved. “
Large parts of Germany would then be affected by such curfews and the restriction of the radius of movement to a maximum of 15 kilometers around the place of residence. Only 14 of 294 counties currently have a seven-day incidence below 50.
In the proposal, the federal government refers to the improvements that can be expected from the corona vaccinations. “At the beginning of 2021, the corona pandemic is marked by great hope,” says the introduction. “The approval of now two vaccines, the start of vaccinations and the prospect of further successful vaccine candidates are linked to the hope that the pandemic can be overcome this year.” A new working group is to prepare possible steps to open it in the event that the incidence drops below 50.
“As long as we remain at a medium to high infection level, however, there is no room for relaxation. And if the virus mutations actually turn out to be much more contagious, the situation is likely to worsen significantly. “
KShortly before the next round of voting between the Prime Minister and Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), the Corona Expert Council of North Rhine-Westphalia Prime Minister Armin Laschet has spoken out with a decidedly critical statement on the previous fight against Covid. Corona policy runs the risk of “no longer reaching and convincing the population as a whole”, according to the fourth statement from the committee set up by Laschet last spring, in which twelve scientists from various disciplines such as the virologist Hendrik Streeck, the economist Michael Hüther and the medical ethicist Christiane Woopen collaborate.
The extremes became increasingly clear: “Corona deniers at one end, lockdown fanatics at the other end,” warn the experts. That is why politics at all levels must succeed in classifying the chosen strategy “better, justifying it, orienting it towards realistic goals”. This also includes not hiding your own doubts and tensions. “Of course, this requires the strength not to present one’s own actions as having no alternative, but to convey it as a selection based on time from a range of different options.”
Laschets’ advisory body, who is also the new CDU federal chairman, calls on the federal and state governments to no longer limit their crisis management to merely reacting to current developments on a situational basis. “The tiresome narrative that this time the crisis could be overcome in the long term by this, often all too unspecific measure, is neither objective nor effective in terms of the social mood”, warn the scientists and present “cornerstones for a long-term strategy”.
“How do we prevent a third lockdown?”
The latest corona decisions by the federal and state governments, which will be made this Tuesday, should “be derived from an understanding of future normality to be able to live with this virus publicly and privately,” demands the expert council. Vaccines are unlikely to make the virus go away completely. It is important to think from the end and to take into account the precautions that are considered necessary, possible and sensible for future normality.
From the point of view of the Laschet Expert Council, the three most important questions on the way to a long-term strategy are: “With a view to the future normality to be described, the questions that are important today are derived: How do we structure the lockdown for the next few months, especially under Consideration of the intensifying collateral effects in existential worries, by the way not only of an economic nature? How and under what conditions do we organize the process of successive opening? How do we prevent a third lockdown in the high risk phase ahead? ‘
Failures must be overcome as quickly as possible in order to better lead society through the crisis. Firstly, it is important to “better grasp the structure and dynamics of epidemiological events”. Because it is astonishing and unacceptable “that too little is known about the places of infection and the dynamics of the epidemiological events since the lockdown in spring 2020”, complains the committee. Interdisciplinary, “centrally coordinated monitoring” is to be introduced quickly and the Corona app is to be further developed. The lack of knowledge is one of the reasons “that political reactions always seem to have only one perspective of action and only one perspective of time until the end of the last measure,” the scientists analyze.
Second, without more knowledge and data, it is also not possible to make decisions that are more nuanced than the “pro or contra lockdown” debate. A differentiated strategy is crucially dependent on the interventions in people’s everyday lives not only being plausible and consistent, but also practically manageable. In addition, during the current lockdown it is important to define criteria for how things will proceed in a differentiated manner after it has been withdrawn so that Germany does not experience another exponential growth in the number of infections after the “reopening of society” after the “reopening of society”.
According to the resolution paper, the Chancellery wants to extend the lockdown until February 15 – read all the latest information here.
Thirdly, it is important to “increase the implementation discipline of government agencies,” demand the scientists. The best crisis management fizzles ineffectively if decided measures are not implemented by the downstream administrative bodies “because the technical prerequisites are lacking, the goals cannot realistically be achieved or the political leadership is not ambitious and does not adjust with future prospects”.
The stringency and the reliability of the implementation are part of a functioning crisis management. The government administration’s long-standing backlog in digitization is now proving to be an additional burden. This can be seen in the tracking of the chains of infection by the health authorities, and this can be seen in the implementation of aid for industries affected by the lockdown. “The diagnosis is serious: It is often not the good will or the conceptual goal setting that is missing on site, but in addition to a lack of leadership, the insufficient technical competence and rigor.”
Do we stay together or do we part for good: Friedrich Merz and his party are like two lovers who, despite mutual attraction, fail to achieve a tolerable relationship. Can Armin Laschet mend the complicated relationship?
It looked like the cards were on the table. In this case, the cards are indeed a letter, sent yesterday evening, from Friedrich Merz to the CDU members, but the words had a clear effect: “Even without an office I will keep my promise to continue working for the party.” At the same time he called for the election of Armin Laschet, whom the delegates now have to confirm as the new CDU boss via postal vote.
Everything paletti, everything in order, the ambitious Friedrich Merz joins in. For real?
The truth is: The letter from Merz was a kind of lightning pill. After his defeat by Armin Laschet, Merz refused to become part of the CDU presidium. At the same time, on Saturday after Laschet’s victory, he immediately claimed the office of Minister of Economics for himself. Even the Union parliamentary group vice-president and Merz supporter Carsten Linnemann later said he was “more than irritated”. There was great unrest in the party.
A poisoned offer
Merz only writes about this in his letter: “At the same time, I very much regret that there were irritations around me over the weekend in this context.” A remarkable formulation. Because the 65-year-old had pushed forward with his request via Reuters news agency.
The “irritations”, as he calls them, were a poisoned offer to Armin Laschet, which put him in a bind: Either he messes with the Chancellor or he alienates a large part of the party. Merz roared out of the Berlin exhibition hall and left Laschet alone. He decided to let the thrust drain, the Chancellor meanwhile had a cool message that a cabinet reshuffle was not planned.
The silence reveals a problem in the CDU
Well, what’s next? Merz stands in the CDU like a kind of statue of conservatism made man: large, impressive –but with no real power. This proved once more his advance on his own behalf.
In the meantime, so it can be heard, Laschet and Merz have come to an understanding that they have spoken out. The post as Minister of Economics is off the table for the time being, Laschet has also been informed about the lightning-calming letter. Only: It is not possible to find out what exactly came out of the discussions. Neither Laschet nor Merz have spoken about it so far. And this silence reveals the big problem facing the CDU.
Is Merz shortlisted for a ministerial post in the next federal government? Will he be promoted to the presidium or even to the party’s executive committee at a later date? What role will he play in the upcoming federal election campaign?
Only: silence. The large statue of Merz stands around in the CDU, and nobody really knows what to do with it.
The party does not want to choose between two poles
Incidentally, this is also due to the Chancellor. Merz’s idle story in the CDU also tells something about Angela Merkel. A year ago, the former chairwoman Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer tried to get Merz into the cabinet with a move. The Chancellor’s veto was as clear then as this time. She does not want to involve her former rival at all. And not at the end of their term of office.
For the new chairman Laschet, the question arises as to what the CDU actually wants to be. He always campaigned for a party that covered all currents and saw himself as a “merger”. Merz stands for the clear focus on a conservative pillar. The party, as one can read the tight decision on Saturday, does not really want to decide between these two poles.
Like a couple and a failed love comeback
Therefore, there is a risk of an acid test: The supporters of Merz will not turn away overnight and will not be appeased so quickly. The frustration with Laschet is enormous in the east and in the south-west. It is now popularly rumored that it is the job of the new chairman to bring the currents together. That’s true, but above all, he has to decide very practically how things should go on with Merz.
Because Merz and the CDU are reminiscent of couples who fell in love with each other in their youth, but then separated quickly, and have been thinking time and again for two years whether they should try again. It doesn’t really want to succeed. There will hardly be a comeback of love, otherwise Merz would not have been rejected by a majority of two party conferences. But neither can really leave each other.
The solution, to stay in the picture, would be the masterpiece of Armin Laschet: At least a shared “flat share” of Friedrich Merz with his supporters and the left wing of the CDU.
At the federal-state summit on Tuesday, further cuts are pending in the everyday life of the citizens. According to media reports, it is already clear that there will be a curfew.
At the federal-state talks on Tuesday, curfews and an FFP2 mask requirement in rail traffic will probably also be wrestled. “There is a selection of possibilities on the table,” said Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier of the “Rheinische Post”. In addition to the FFP2 mask requirement in rail traffic and the curfews, he also mentioned a home office requirement and clearer contact restrictions. Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) meanwhile said that he expected the federal and state governments to tighten the corona restrictions and extend them by two weeks.
The “Tagesschau” and the business magazine “Business Insider” had previously reported that the federal and state governments would probably want to introduce a night curfew nationwide. The only open question is from when to when such a curfew will apply and whether it should only come into force from a certain incidence, it said in the reports on Sunday, citing information from government circles. In principle, the federal states agreed to the measure.
Some of the rules already apply in Bavaria
In Bavaria, people have had to wear FFP2 protective masks on buses, trams, underground and suburban trains and in all shops since the early hours of the morning. A night curfew also already applies in the Free State. Before the consultations on Tuesday, Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder sees his own state in the fight against the pandemic already well positioned. “I don’t think we need to pull any screws anymore,” said the CSU boss on Sunday evening on the ARD talk show “Anne Will”.
Instead, Söder called on the other countries to implement the decisions made at the Prime Minister’s Conference more consistently. “Half of the countries do something completely different,” he said. “So that you have to keep asking the question: Why do we decide something when half do it differently.” Söder called for consistent application and implementation of what was decided in Berlin. “I also don’t believe in endless differentiations – because only what applies to everyone is understandable.”
Söder sees the regulations in Bavaria as a kind of blueprint for federal regulations. According to information from “Business Insiders”, the Chancellery even wants to introduce a nationwide uniform night curfew, as it already exists in France or other neighboring countries. From the federal states, however, one can also hear that everything is currently being discussed that can be discussed.
Scholz expects a longer lockdown
Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in the “Bild” talk “The right questions”: “Further measures must be taken.” (…). “I assume that it could be 14 days that will be added again.” The Vice Chancellor did not want to rule out whether this also includes curfews: “I think this is a possible measure, but not the first one to come.”
SPD health politician Karl Lauterbach even spoke out in favor of a tough three-week lockdown. The growth of the mutation must absolutely be prevented, he wrote on Twitter early Monday morning. Otherwise the mutation will spread “faster than we can vaccinate”. In his view, curfews from 8 p.m. are justifiable for three weeks. For local public transport, he advocates maximum occupation limits and FFP2 mask requirements.
“What we cannot assess at all is the British virus”
So there is still a lot of need for coordination in front of the federal-state switch. On Monday, the leaders of the federal and state governments will be informed about new findings by leading scientists. “There are those who they all know,” said Hesse’s Prime Minister Volker Bouffier (CDU) at “Anne Will” and named the RKI President Lothar Wieler and the Charité virologist Christian Drosten.
On the question of why the federal-state conference on Tuesday was scheduled so quickly and why the situation is so urgent, Bouffier said: “What we cannot even assess is the British virus. That is the reason why we are meeting now.” This time, scientists from Great Britain will also be there. “It will be about: What knowledge do you have?” In Great Britain, a more contagious mutation of the coronavirus has spread widely and has now also been detected in Germany. A comparable variant has also appeared in South Africa.
There is a risk that the dynamics will accelerate again if the virus mutations continue to spread, said Altmaier. “That is why we must now – and this is explicitly my opinion as Minister of Economics – at the Prime Minister’s Conference set the course so that we can finally break the wave of infections in the next few weeks and prevent the dynamic from rising again until Easter.”
The SPD leader also speaks of the obligation to work from home
SPD leader Saskia Esken spoke with “Anne Will” like Altmaier of the home office obligation: You may have to order home office in the company, she said. Scholz also called for companies to be more responsible when it came to home office matters, and that they could “not stay with appeals,” he said in the “Bild” talk. “We have to go one step further.” But he did not want to talk about an obligation to work from home: It will always depend on “that this is also possible in operational terms. We want to remain pragmatic and not ask for the impossible”.
Green parliamentary group leader Katrin Göring-Eckardt calls for an initiative to expand corona rapid tests in the fight against the virus. “With purchase guarantees and a change in the medical product dispensing regulation, Health Minister (Jens) Spahn must ensure that sufficient rapid tests are produced and can also be bought and used by private individuals,” said Göring-Eckardt to the newspapers of the Funke media group.
According to Göring-Eckardt, regular rapid tests should ensure more safety in all professions in which people regularly work with changing contacts. She cited doctors, nurses and police officers as examples.
The virologist Marylyn Addo expects the corona pandemic to ease significantly from spring and summer. “Already because of the warmer weather and the higher vaccination rate,” said the head of the Infectious Diseases Section at the University Clinic Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE) of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” (Monday).