During her 16 years in office, Angela Merkel has produced a couple of memorable sentences that will be imprinted into her legacy. She added a few more on Wednesday, when she announced that the government rescinds plans of a radical Easter shutdown, saying: ‘This mistake is my mistake alone.’
It is quite remarkable to see a leader taking the full blame for what has been perceived as a hasty and impetuous decision. Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers had agreed on a radical lockdown over the Easter holidays in yet another attempt to curb the rise of coronavirus infections. But the planned shutdown was met with public anger and a backbench rebellion in Merkel’s party. Uncharacteristically for her time as German Chancellor, the pressure became so intense that Merkel saw herself compelled to U-turn on the agreement she had forced through at talks with the state premiers only two days earlier. ‘The idea of an Easter shutdown was created with the best of intentions,’ she said, admitting that the plan was not well thought out and almost impossible to be implemented within a week. She also admitted that the announcement of the shutdown had created even more confusion among citizens than there already was. ‘I deeply regret that and ask all citizens to forgive me.’
Under the proposed plans, all shops and businesses would have closed from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday, and people had been urged to remain at home. Supermarkets and grocery shops would have been permitted to open for one day on Saturday so people can stock up on provisions.
Merkel’s U-turn was met with mixed reactions. Some Germans welcomed the decision; some saw it as yet another sign of how chaotic the country’s response to the pandemic has become; and some were astonished by her inability to employ radical measures in light of an approaching third wave. Giving in to internal pressure might also be a sign that Merkel knows she can take blame more easily than her Christian Democrat ministers who are supposed to lead the party in the future. She rejected demands for a vote of confidence in her government after making her announcement on Wednesday. ‘No, I will not do that,’ said Merkel, when asked about calls by all three opposition parties that she submits a vote of confidence. ‘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’s CDU is rapidly losing the support of voters. Their approval rating has dropped 9 per cent to just 26 within a week. This marks the lowest approval rating for the conservatives since Helmut Kohl’s party funding scandal in the late 1990s. Meanwhile, the Greens are clearing up, currently sitting at 22 per cent. If Merkel cannot improve her country’s response to the pandemic, she may find that rather than passing the keys to the chancellery on to a carefully groomed successor, that an opposition party instead wrenches them from her hands.
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