Nothing is moving forward, everything is failing: by now the Merkel government’s inaction is taking on grotesque features. But instead of changing course, the chancellor is simply sealing herself off from reality. In the last months of his chancellorship Helmut Kohl was mainly preoccupied with himself. Against the world outside the chancellery, the chancellor of unity set himself up in a homely counter-reality in which all disturbances were reduced to a minimum.

Head of the Chancellor’s Office Friedrich Bohl

Visitors were given the good advice to present their concerns in a few short sentences, because after that they would no longer be able to get a word in edgewise. In the evening, the faithful gathered in the chancellor’s bungalow, where they listened to the same stories and anecdotes over and over again until the boss finally stopped the round.

It is said that the dutiful head of the Chancellor’s Office, Friedrich Bohl, jammed a needle into his thigh under the table to prevent himself from falling asleep. Early absences were possible, but were noted as naughtiness or unreliability of character.

Merkel’s attentisme

Merkel’s attentisme (wait-and-see attitude) is reminiscent of the final phase of Kohl’s mandate. The more I observe Angela Merkel, the more I am reminded of the final phase of Kohl’s mandate. Large gatherings should be avoided for the sake of the coronavirus. Merkel is also not inclined to lecture at all, she is still disciplined in this respect. But she has been seized by the same emotion that affected Kohl. You just have to read the interviews she has given in recent weeks to get an idea of her gratitude.

Unfortunately, Kohl and Merkel also share the ‘attentisme’ (wait-and-see) attitude of the late phase. Nothing progresses, everything fails. But in a way, it doesn’t matter. Just now, the issue of self-testing was launched once again. Jens Spahn had announced the start on 1 March. Finally a success, he thought. Then the Chancellor hissed back at him. Now it’s supposed to start next week. Or the end of March… Or when…?

I have always defended Angela Merkel against the critics who believe that the CDU would return to its former greatness if only it would finally reverse the changes Merkel has inflicted on the party. In the meantime, I am convinced that it would be better if the chancellor took her well-deserved retirement as soon as possible. Every day with her at the helm is a day lost for the country.

With Kohl, too, observers were counting down the days to the end. The difference, however, is that with Kohl the country was not in its worst crisis since the Second World War. The backlog of reforms he was blamed for was a protracted tax reform. How lucky we’d be if all we had to deal with was a lull in the tax code. The Merkel stalemate is literally costing people their livelihoods.

Age limit

There’s an age limit to being head of government. I have to be careful not to write myself into a rage. Too much emotion is not good for a reviewer. I turn off the TV when Merkel appears. I simply can’t stand it any more: the aunt-like complacency with which every demand is brushed aside, the carelessness in the choice of words that betrays a fundamental lack of interest in the consequences of one’s own policies.

When Angela Merkel drops in a subordinate clause that schools, theatres and sports clubs will be opened “and one day the hotels”, for people whose livelihood depends on such a hotel, this is a sentence that will keep them awake. One day? On FOCUS Online, a hotel owner had her say and reported that she now dreams of this sentence at night.

Maybe there’s an age limit you shouldn’t exceed as head of government. Or perhaps the job simply dulls her. Chancellors can’t be in tears every day. If you have to take decisions that deeply affect other people’s lives, you need a certain toughness and inner coldness. But as chancellor you should at least be able to show that you know what you’re asking of the citizens.

Meanwhile, the inactivity is taking on grotesque features. For weeks it has been said that the incidence rate must remain stable at 35 because everything depends on the functioning of the health authorities. But when it comes to enabling the health offices to do their job, no one in government feels responsible.

Last week, the “Welt am Sonntag” asked the offices how many were using the new software to finally make progress in contact tracing. Answer: 84 of the total of 375 health offices in Germany have the program in operation. A third have not even signed the necessary contracts yet.

What’s the next move?

There is no idea, no plan how to proceed – and people are closing themselves off. Many authorities prefer to continue to rely on the paper procedure, in which the names of the infected and their relatives have to be entered on 16 different forms.

A law would be enough to stop this madness. But nobody in Berlin can bring themselves to propose it. They would rather prolong the standstill. There is no idea, no plan on how to proceed.

In order to avoid questions, they seal themselves off. In mid-February, representatives of 40 business associations were in Berlin. The entrepreneurs would have loved to talk to their chancellor to tell her what the world looks like outside the chancellery. Unfortunately Merkel couldn’t find the time for a meeting.

Instead poor Peter Altmaier, who everyone knows is already overburdened with the payment of the promised emergency aid, had to take over. The man cuts such a sorry figure that the business representatives who travelled to Berlin refrained from making any noise for fear that the minister would crack under the pressure.

There is also a remarkable regression to the national. Other countries are either too small or too big or too Asian to compare with Germany. The chancellor, for example, sits in a small circle and instead of discussing vaccination strategies prefers to devote herself to lockdown scenarios. Should citizens be allowed access to toilet seats and cable cutters, or to books? And which is more important for public hygiene: barbers or chiropodists? If it wasn’t so terrible, you would hardly be able to stop laughing.

Can we still trust?

60 percent of Germans still have confidence in government – what’s wrong with those people? It is incomprehensible to me that over 60 percent of Germans in surveys still express confidence in the government’s leadership. What’s wrong with people? Do they have to have an aerial bomb thrown at them to make them doubt the much-praised prudence of the head of government?

On the other hand, a good part of the voters think the same as the Chancellor. They are not really worried about the measures imposed. People over 60 do not need bars and clubs. On the contrary, they find it very pleasant that life is a little less intense. It takes away the feeling of missing out on something.

The decommissioning of inner cities is also accompanied by a noticeable reduction in noise levels. If you want to get an idea of what the ideal green city looks like, you only have to look at Berlin under coronavirus conditions. It’s not my dream of a big city, but then I don’t come from Baden-Württemberg or the East German provinces.

There is a huge difference between Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel, that should not go unmentioned. In the end, everyone in the media was after Kohl. “Kohl’s power is crumbling”, “How much longer?”, “Kohl kaputt”, were typical “Spiegel” headlines in the nineties. But hardly anyone dare to go after Angela Merkel, not even “Der Spiegel”.

The Chancellor allegedly got emotional the other day. When Manuela Schwesig reproached her for not thinking about children, she is said to have replied that she wouldn’t let herself be accused of torturing children. At least that’s what the newspapers reported. Finally, Merkel with a heart! One could literally hear the sigh of relief that went through the editorial offices.

 


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