Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely held in high regard. For many years now she has been a calming voice of reason. Other European politicians have come and gone but she has survived them all. But nothing lasts forever and Chancellor Merkel has decided to retire in 2021. It is perhaps sadly ironic that as her period in power draws towards a close Europe in some ways looks as if it needs her more than ever. The 'European project' is sailing in choppy waters perhaps more than it has done since the financial crisis of 2008 and arguably long before that. At the time of writing the vexed issue of Brexit seems to no closer to resolution with the clock approaching one minute to midnight though it is always possible that at the final moment some kind of rabbit might be pulled out of the hat. If a 'no deal' Brexit is the end result this is going to complicate matters greatly for Britain of course but also for the EU too. Trading is likely to get much more bureaucratic as a result and also potentially, in some cases at least, more expensive due to the possible imposition of tariffs. Travel will also become more problematic, a situation made worse by the likely imposition of tighter Covid-linked restrictions making it much more difficult for British travellers to go on holiday. That could hit countries like Spain, with its enticing prospect of winter sun, hard. In addition, the European budget process has just been finalised but only after a great deal of angst involving Poland and Hungary who show signs, to coin a phrase, of 'going rogue'.
Chancellor Merkel has often been the cement that has helped to bond the EU infrastructure together when it has been under great strain. Her soothing influence will be much missed when she goes especially given the current batch of challenges. Domestically also things have got worse and Covid has played its part in this. For a time Germany appeared to be doing well. In fact it was in earlier times held up as an example of how to deal with the pandemic. But it's halo is now in danger of slipping. Speaking in the German parliament, the Bundestag, this week Chancellor Merkel became untypically emotional when talking about the alarming rise in the number of people being treated in intensive care wards as well as a hike in the number of deaths. This led her to ask for a tightening of lockdown restrictions with in particular the onset of Christmas, normally a great time for social gatherings and family reunions in the country, rapidly approaching. She warned that if there were too many contacts in the next few weeks then it could be the last Christmas that many families were able to spend with their grandparents.
The lockdown measures she then introduced have been tough compared to previous restrictions employed in Germany. All shops will be shut between 24 December and 10 January. School holidays will start earlier than planned on 14 December and will also carry on until 10 January. She warned that these restrictions were necessary because it will not be possible to roll out the vaccination programme in the first quarter of 2021 to deal with the likely spike in cases otherwise. This comes on top of an admission by some authorities in Germany that a number of districts have lost control of the spread of the virus. The situation sadly is also replicated to some extent in neighbouring France even though restrictions there are about to be lifted for Christmas.
Germany had hoped to deal with the rise in infections by what became known as a 'lockdown lite' at the start of November. This saw restaurants, bars, theatres and gyms close but schools and businesses remain open. Chancellor Merkel has now admitted that these steps have failed to turn the tide. In fact since the end of September the number of people in intensive care wards has risen over 10-fold and the daily death toll has increased over the same period from 12 at the end of September to 590 now. Nearly 20,000 new infections have just been reported over the last daily period. It would be something of an unfair reflection on Ms Merkel's long time at the helm if she were to be remembered as the Chancellor who failed to bring Covid under control.
Wayne Bartlett is an author for accountingcpd. To see his courses, click here.