We saw a preview of the upcoming change of guard in German politics this week.
Following an acrimonious summit between Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 federal states at the beginning of this week, the Chancellor announced an extension of the partial lockdown until 18 April, as well as a tightening of restrictions from 1-5 April, dubbed ‘Osterruhe’ (English: Easter rest).
However, on Tuesday, Merkel made a rare public apology after being forced to abandon the five-day hard lockdown just 33 hours after announcing it, saying the plans had been her mistake, “and mistakes should be called out as such”.
As Merkel left the studio, Green leader Annalena Baerbock was interviewed after her. The Greens were the only party that has not joined the calls for a confidence vote.
It was a remarkable admission, particularly because asking for forgiveness has seldom, if ever, been part of Merkel’s repertoire.
Merkel has never admitted to any mistakes over a big policy decision she has taken – not on the migration crisis, the nuclear phase-out, and so far not during this pandemic, despite the German government being continuously under fire for its crisis management.
Growing frustration with the government’s heavy handed decision-making, mask scandals and slow vaccine roll-out is threatening to damage Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) ahead of the September general election.
But the apology also underscores three things: Firstly, it exposes the helplessness of a national government’s crisis management in the face of a pandemic, which could be followed by ever-faster dwindling confidence in political decisions.
Second, it shows that despite Merkel leaving politics for good, it’s an attempt to repair the image of the party with honesty. For the CDU, the September election result will be highly dependent on how this pandemic has been dealt with by the government. And so far, it isn’t going great. The party is sliding in public opinion polls.
And in the end, it’s about legacy and the plain fact that Merkel is on the way out. The last impression is always decisive. In politics, often enough, an apology often ends in a resignation – something Merkel does not have to worry about any more.
Before you head into the weekend, have a read of the latest edition of our Global Europe and Digital Briefs.
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