Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for much tougher restrictions on public life going into Christmas. She came out explicitly in favor of the recommendations that Germany’s National Academy of Science, Leopoldina, released on Tuesday.
They call for an end to required school attendance starting Dec. 14, an extended Christmas school break, a full closure of businesses, and working from home to the fullest extent possible.
Merkel said she opposed opening hotels so families could meet over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays and that she agreed with recommendations to close shops after Christmas until January 10.
Merkel made her remarks in the Bundestag parliament Wednesday morning as part of the debate over the government’s 2021 budget debate. These debates are traditionally an opportunity to take stock of government performance over the previous year. This was Merkel’s last budget debate, as she will not stand for reelection next year, after 15 years of heading the German government.
Merkel pushed back against criticism over her government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, arguing the country was going through an “exceptional situation.”
“The most important key to us successfully fighting the virus is the responsible behavior of every individual and the willingness to cooperate,” Merkel told her audience of mostly unmasked MPs.
Germany is struggling to cope with the pandemic.The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s public disease health authority, on Wednesday announced a record daily death toll in Germany of 590 people bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 19,932 with more than 1.2 million infections.
AfD attack on Merkel
Merkel came under sharp criticism from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The party’s co-leader in parliament, Alice Weidel called for an end to “counterproductive lockdowns” and slammed what she called Merkel’s “aimless and grotesque” handling of the pandemic. “She locks up citizens and destroys entire industries,” said Weidel, who argued a lockdown was being imposed with a “sledgehammer” and will lead to more harm than good.
The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), the largest opposition party and fiercest critics of the government’s pandemic policies.
Christian Lindner, who leads the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), said the current lockdown restrictions were “purely symbolic, ineffective, and disproportionately undermine personal freedom.”
He called for more “predictability” in the government’s efforts to reign in the virus and warned against what his party views as undue harm to German business and the economy.
The FDP leader along with other members of the Bundestag have strongly criticized the absence of parliamentary oversight of government pandemic policy.
Taking stock of Merkel’s government
The parliamentary debate was dominated by the fight against the coronavirus.
But the opposition’s criticisms of Merkel’s 15 years in office extended beyond the pandemic. According to Alice Weidel it had just served to “accelerate and worsen” existing trends, such as the “mainstreaming” of political correctness.
“Germany’s armed forces are sensitive to gender identity, but are not ready to deploy,” she said.
On the economy, Weidel said Merkel’s legacy would be debt and unemployment. Germany’s mighty auto industry had taken a back seat to Merkel’s climate-friendly politics, she alleged, speaking of misguided “climate hysteria” leading to a new focus on renewable energy. Electric cars, Weidel claimed, “have no viable future without billions in state help.”
She also leaned on the common populist talking point of Islamist terrorism and “imported criminality,” although German police statistics show a regular decline in crime through 2019, including the fewest thefts since 1987.