“In the span of a few months, Germany has gone from a shining example of a country that rallied the public behind a Covid-19 strategy to a cautionary tale about what can happen when that strategy falls apart.”
“Unified, clear public health communication saved lives — but as the months dragged on, it was no match for shifting national politics, a fragmented system of government, and a public so tired of the pandemic that they came up with a word for the exhaustion: “coronamüde.”
Germany still reports about two-thirds the Covid-19 deaths per capita as the rest of the EU, and about half the per capita death toll of the US. But its lead has shrunk over time”
“In September, after Germany’s summer of freedom, Oktoberfest arrived. Munich’s iconic festival was canceled, but some beer halls around Germany held their own celebrations. Organizers claimed the gatherings were regulated with masking and social distancing requirements.
But in reality, many Germans came together, maskless, by the dozens in indoor spaces, sitting tightly across long tables as they drank beer, yelled, and laughed — spitting all over each other particles that can carry the coronavirus and transmit the disease.
It was emblematic of the kind of freedom, beyond Oktoberfest, that Germans embraced when they came back home from summer holidays, pouring into risky indoor spaces and disregarding some of the precautions recommended by experts and officials to contain Covid-19.”
“Officials seemed content to keep letting the virus spread at a faster rate, letting things get worse bit by bit. Some state leaders resisted anything resembling a lockdown; North Rhine-Westphalia School Minister Yvonne Gebauer, bolstered by regional cases dropping to the national average, argued masks in classrooms were “no longer necessary.”
These state leaders were backed by vocal anti-lockdown segments of the population, which marched in the streets in August to oppose Covid-related restrictions. The initial success against the virus — and the short-term economic damage a lockdown would bring — had also left more of the public cool on the need for harsher rules.
By the end of October, the scenario Merkel warned about early in the pandemic when she explained exponential spread to a worldwide audience, came true: Daily new Covid-19 cases in Germany multiplied by seven times in the span of the month.
The success of the past few months had built complacency, and the federal system that allowed Jena to experiment with masks now suffocated further progress. The country’s 16 state governments and Merkel’s federal government couldn’t come to an agreement until it was too late, after they saw the results of exponential spread firsthand.”
“Public fatigue with Covid-19 — that coronamüde — also played a role. Based on his own analysis, Christian Karagiannidis, a researcher and ICU doctor at Witten/Herdecke University, told me that the second set of lockdowns was only “50 percent [as effective] as that from the first wave.” He added, “People are more or less fed up. They are tired. They are not adherent to the measures that were implemented by the German government.””
“Merkel appeared to see much of this coming. As Germany prepared to reopen last summer, she called the country’s success in fighting Covid-19 at the time “fragile,” adding that Germany should be “smart and careful” in the coming months, regularly reevaluating the rules it set in place. But Merkel’s constant message of caution ultimately wasn’t enough to counter a fragmented federalist system — especially as politicians began competing to eventually replace her.”
“German solidarity had major systemic forces stacked against it: a federalist system, a political battle to replace Merkel as head of the government, and a long pandemic that fatigued populations across Europe and the rest of the globe.”
“The issue is the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is slated to bring up to 55 billion cubic meters a year of natural gas from Russia to Germany and is within a few months of completion. A bipartisan coalition in Congress aims to thwart what it views as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s drive to acquire political leverage over Europe by hooking it on Russian gas. Now, lawmakers are pressuring the Biden administration to implement the sanctions they already passed.”
“Biden himself has said that the pipeline is “a bad deal for Europe” but is reportedly reluctant to move forward with sanctions that would affect a critical ally. In the face of Congressional demands for maximal action that will kill the pipeline — an outcome that may not even be possible — senior aides are searching for a measure that would get Congress off the boil without causing a breach with Berlin.
If no middle position can be found, and the administration capitulates to Congress, one senior Berlin official worries, the result may be “a major portion of the CDU/CSU [the allied Christian Democrats and Bavarian Christian Social Union] turning against the U.S.” Germany’s center-right coalition has held the chancellery for all but 20 of the postwar German republic’s 72 years in existence. Such a breach with what has arguably been the most consistently pro-American party in Europe, the official adds, “hasn’t happened in the history of this republic.” The insult to Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Trump singled out for particularly offensive treatment and who is now coming to the end of her 16-year tenure, would be unforgettable.”
“Russia may richly deserve the punitive treatment, but whatever damage a new round of sanctions implementation will inflict on Russia will be relatively minor compared to the harm to the U.S.-German bilateral relationship at a genuinely critical moment. Washington is looking to Europe — with Germany in the lead — to craft complementary policies to manage an emboldened China. On issues like setting standards and regulating the cyber world, only a U.S.-European effort could block Chinese ambitions. Washington also hopes Germany and its EU partners will help stop Chinese efforts to control a range of international agencies and provide a united front on Chinese human rights abuses. Breathing new life into NATO, revitalizing the Iran nuclear deal and, ironically, managing Vladimir Putin are other areas where German support will be essential.”
“Congress is so determined to whack Russia that it is threatening to undermine the very transatlantic alliances that are essential for countering Russia over the long-term. But that is the result of Capitol Hill’s trouble with setting priorities and an ingrained bad habit — specifically, the habit of slapping on sanctions whenever it doesn’t like something. American legislators appear to have forgotten that so-called “secondary” or “extraterritorial” sanctions, which affect not only countries that have done things that are wrong (Russia invading and annexing Crimea) but also countries that have done things within their rights (doing business with Russia), are considered by the rest of the world to be a violation of international law.”
“the case that sanctions advocates make is questionable at best. The notion that Putin will ensnare Europe in an energy stranglehold is far-fetched. Europe has been diversifying its energy sources for decades and now receives less than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia, down from 80 percent in 1990. There is also little evidence that Germany’s substantial Russian gas imports over decades have affected Germany policies toward Russia. Nothing stopped Chancellor Angela Merkel from taking the lead in criticizing Moscow for the poisoning of Navalny, who was flown to Berlin, where he recuperated. (Trump questioned whether the Russian government was behind the poisoning.) Nor can Germany be accused of weakness when it comes to the sanctions related to Russia’s annexation of Crimea or occupation of eastern Ukraine.
In recent years, German natural gas consumption has fluctuated in a small band, and while it may grow as nuclear energy and coal are phased out, that will be offset to a significant degree by the rapid growth in renewable energy. Germany is a global leader in the field with renewables comprising 18 percent of total energy consumption and powering more than 45 percent of electricity generation. Moreover, a completed Nord Stream 2 would likely not mean substantially greater exports of Russian gas to Europe. It would just mean that less gas comes to Europe in pipelines that transit Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. (Concern about diminished gas transit fees have led Ukraine and Poland to be among the vociferous lobbyists for killing Nord Stream 2.)
Against this backdrop and with ample historical experience, the Germans plausibly argue that they will not be in the thrall of the Kremlin. The key dependence, they argue, will run in the other direction, with an economically ramshackle Russia urgently needing euro payments for its gas, a point endorsed by experts such as Eugene Rumer, the former top U.S. intelligence community Russia watcher.
There are ways to achieve a solution with Germany that will avoid a train wreck. Many German politicians — including Greens who hate to see more fossil fuels flowing into the country and policymakers who hate having any business with Russia — think the pipeline was a dumb idea from the start, but relations with the Trump administration were too toxic to sort things out, and the project is now too close to completion to abandon. There is ample room for negotiation.
Former German Ambassador to the U.S. Wolfgang Ischinger has suggested that Germany make the flow of gas conditional on improvements in Russian behavior. Responding to the argument that Russia will divert gas that now transits Ukraine to Nord Stream 2 and starve that country of much-needed transit fees, Steven Pifer, who served as U.S. envoy to Ukraine, argues for insisting on a Russian guarantee that it will continue pumping at least 40 billion cubic meters of gas through Ukraine, as it is now doing, beyond 2024, when the current deal runs out. No doubt there are other possible approaches as well.
What there is no substitute for in global politics is a strengthened transatlantic alliance — historically the most important for American statecraft — and that is something that won’t happen if the strongest country in Europe, Germany, feels dissed.”
“The sudden rise of infections caused surprise among many politicians and had led to a sudden shift of opinion in recent days, as some of Germany’s regional leaders had previously resisted calls from Merkel to adopt swifter measures. The latest numbers are notably worse than Merkel’s own prediction in late September, when she warned that Germany could have 19,200 daily new cases by Christmas if it did not introduce further restrictions.
Speaking on Sunday, the chancellor made an “urgent” appeal to citizens to respect the rules and thanked health care workers: “For them it will be a very hard Christmas.””
“Berlin continues to fall short of NATO defense spending targets”
“Trump’s attacks on Berlin’s modest military spending may trigger outrage in Germany, but in the U.S., they are viewed as among his less controversial outbursts.
That might be because, like Obama before him, he has a point. Why should the U.S. continue to bear the financial brunt of protecting Europe’s richest country? That question becomes even tougher to answer when considering Germany’s continued engagement with Russia — such as via the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — despite the loud objections of the U.S. and other allies.”
“what exactly is Germany getting right?
What’s often cited is an effective deployment of technology, such as a contact tracing app, to fight the pandemic. There’s the frequently praised mass testing program, which rivals South Korea’s, and the oversupply of ICU beds — controversial before the coronavirus, now lauded. It also helps that Angela Merkel has a doctorate in quantum chemistry and heads a country that treats scientists, like the Berlin-based virologist and podcaster Christian Drosten, like superstars.
Yet this is far from the whole story of Germany’s relative success.”
“Over the past few weeks, I talked to doctors, health officials, and researchers in Germany— including some of the country’s first Covid-19 responders — and elsewhere to get a deeper perspective on why Germany has had better-than-average pandemic performance in Europe.
I heard, again and again, four explanations for the country’s coronavirus success. They had nothing to do with tech, Merkel, or hospital beds. And they’ve been largely overlooked.
Let’s call them the L’s: luck, learning, local responses, and listening. While the pandemic certainly isn’t over, and Germany is facing a pivotal moment with a record number of new infections, these factors may be the reason Germany bends the curve quickly once again.”
“”Germany’s Network Enforcement Law, or NetzDG … requires social media companies to block or remove content that violates one of twenty restrictions on hate and defamatory speech in the German Criminal Code,” Diana Lee wrote for Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic. “In effect, the NetzDG conscripts social media companies into governmental service as content regulators,” with millions of euros in fines hanging over their heads if they guess wrong.
That model of delegated censorship has proven to be as infectious as a viral outbreak, taking hold in over a dozen other countries.”
“expected to encourage even more “overblocking” by platforms worried that they’ll face a financial death penalty if they guess wrong as to content’s legal status.”
“The U.S. faces its own speech- and privacy-threatening legislation in the form of the Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARN IT) Act of 2020. The legislation, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last month, invokes children and the dangers of child pornography on its way to threatening platforms with the loss of Section 230 protection against liability for content posted by users if they don’t adopt government-dictated “best practices.”
“The EARN IT bill would allow small website owners to be sued or prosecuted under state laws, as long as the prosecution or lawsuit somehow related to crimes against children,” warns the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We know how websites will react to this. Once they face prosecution or lawsuits based on other peoples’ speech, they’ll monitor their users, and censor or shut down discussion forums.”
This world-wide wave of censorship legislation piggy-backs on pandemic-related concerns about the quality of information and the safety of communications available to people confined to their homes. It has sometimes been passed by legislatures empowered by health-related states of emergency. Yet again, a crisis eases the way for governments to accumulate powers that would face greater resistance in happier times.”
“France and Germany, Europe’s two most powerful countries, have been hit hard by the coronavirus, with each approaching 150,000 confirmed cases. But as of April 17, France has near 18,000 dead from the infection, while Germany’s death toll has passed 4,000.
Which raises the question: How did two similarly sized countries, located right next to each other and with comparable levels of wealth and resources, end up with such starkly different outcomes?
The answer has a lot to do with how their respective governments responded to the crisis.
France had the continent’s first confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, but the French government failed for weeks to take decisive action to impose strict social distancing measures or promote large-scale testing. Germany, on the other hand, immediately began aggressively testing and tracking people with symptoms.
Now, France is under lockdown and has just extended it until at least May 11. Meanwhile, Germany plans to reopen part of its economy next week.”
“Germany isn’t out of the woods yet. But it’s in a better position than most because it had good fortune and the good sense to start testing early and often.
France, on the other hand, had none of that.”
“February came and went with little action. Health officials advised citizens to wash their hands, keep a safe distance from others, cover their mouths when sneezing, and stay away from retirement homes. And even as Macron held video conference calls on the virus and inspected hospitals and clinics to see how his country was coping, few concrete actions were taken to impose strict social distancing measures or promote large-scale testing.
In fact, in early March, the government still allowed gatherings of up to 1,000 people to proceed. Macron, for his part, attended a theater performance on March 6, partly to show that life could continue unperturbed. He also visited a retirement home that same day, even as the number of coronavirus infections in the country was at least doubling.
To make matters worse, France couldn’t get a clear picture of the growing problem due to a lack of tests. As Politico reported last week, the country doesn’t manufacture its own testing kits, but rather “relies on China for their main components.” With China paralyzed by its coronavirus outbreak at the time, France was unable to quickly get more tests. That severely limited the country’s ability to do widespread testing early on, which public health experts say is critical to slowing an outbreak.
Macron, in effect, seemed to be sleepwalking toward disaster.”