It’s all well intentioned. The federal and state governments, the chancellor and the prime ministers have big plans on this Thursday in early summer in Berlin. Everyone agrees that they want to get the country through the nasty double crisis, which has divided the world twice into a before and an after. Before the onset of the pandemic and after the onset of the pandemic. Before the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine. And after the start of this war.
Germany’s politicians were not really prepared for either of these two crises. Which explains some of the junk, some of the mistakes of the past two years, but not everyone. In this respect, Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) rightly pushed for a big plan with his colleagues before the start of the meeting, which should now be put in place in order to at least get the pandemic under control permanently and not just for this summer moment. Not to mention Putin’s war, not to mention Putin’s murders. It would be a success if we managed to prevent something even worse from happening. Also in this country.
So corona. In what was said on the fringes of the prime ministers’ conference, the heads of government approved a five-point program presented by the chancellor’s office in a more routine than tense atmosphere.
According to this, citizens are to be given a comprehensive offer to refresh their vaccination protection in the autumn, among other things. Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach (SPD) says he wants to procure excess vaccine in order to be adequately prepared for every conceivable development of the pandemic. According to Lauterbach’s intention, the Germans should be able to be offered the best vaccine in each case and for each virus variant.
Lauterbach also wants to present another amendment to the Federal Infection Protection Act, foreseeably again in tandem with Federal Justice Minister Marco Buschmann (FDP). This is intended to create the legal basis for possible protective measures. How extensive they could be, whether and if so, to what extent mask, test, home office and 2G/3G obligations can be waived again; whether distance rules could be reintroduced, or even another lockdown could be imposed, remained open this Thursday. The scientific evaluation of the measures that have been tried and tested over the past two years should give the first indications at the end of June, and the Federal Government’s Corona Expert Council should then make concrete proposals for a possible future set of rules.
The federal and state governments want to avoid three mistakes of the past two years in any case next winter. The vulnerable groups, especially older people and those with a weakened immune system, should be better protected than in previous years.
Comprehensive school and daycare closures should be avoided at all costs. To this end, the responsible federal and state ministries are to work with the Robert Koch Institute to develop concepts that are based on the experience of the past pandemic waves. And finally, data collection for assessing the incidence of infection and the situation in hospitals is to be significantly improved. For this, it was said, “further steps in digitization at all levels are necessary in the short term.”
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz summarized Lauterbach’s big plans in the press conference following the Prime Ministers’ Conference: “We now have summer tires on them, if I may choose that example. It’s about having the right winter tires ready when it matters. And if it’s going to be a very icy landscape, then maybe we’ll need other ways to move forward safely.” So if we’re very lucky, we’ll get a rather “warm winter” and won’t need all that stuff at all.
It is even more uncertain whether and, if so, how the virus could get the country under control again, are the further consequences of the Ukraine war for the people and for politics in this country. The dynamic price development is worrying the heads of government, as is the energy supply as a whole. The question of what exactly is supposed to happen when gas and oil run out next winter is something nobody can really answer at the moment. Not even the otherwise self-assured Chancellor. So it’s going to be a bit of a mess after this prime ministers’ conference.
Lower Saxony’s head of government Stephan Weil, like Scholz a social democrat, renewed his call for further relief, especially for pensioners. According to the federal government’s plans, they should not benefit from the “energy money” that employees will soon receive once. Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey, also SPD, is venting initial thoughts about a “profit limitation clause” with which war-related profits from energy companies could be restricted by the state. Bremen’s Mayor Andreas Bovenschulte announced on Tuesday a Federal Council initiative to impose an “excess profit tax” on oil companies.
The Chancellor himself says little about these demands. Rather, he repeated the announcement he had read out in the Bundestag the day before that he wanted to revive the “concerted action”. At the end of the 1960s, the legendary Economics Minister Karl Schiller (SPD) ensured price stability, at least temporarily. Trade unions, employers and the state should therefore start looking for a way out of the looming wage-price spiral. A borrowing from the past, which is also an expression of the helplessness of politicians in dealing with the consequences of the Ukraine war.
The heads of government have long been in agreement under the pressure of the Ukraine war that renewable energies should be expanded “at the greatest pace” in the coming months and years. According to Scholz, the first, still provisional, LNG terminals on the North Sea coast should now go into operation in winter. The snail’s pace at which such systems or the necessary new power lines were planned and installed in the past will be ended with the help of acceleration legislation. Everything should be going fast now.
The heads of government from the east of the republic in particular urged the federal government to be more cautious with further embargo measures against Russia at the joint meeting.
“We have clearly stated that the sanctions package is a real package,” said Berlin’s Governing Mayor Franziska Giffey (SPD) afterwards, “but of course this must go hand in hand with the fact that the supply of energy and also the affordability of energy at competitive prices need to be secured”. This caution is “essential for the functionality of Germany as a business location, but also of Germany as an energy location.”