Merkel and Germany’s state leaders to draw up plan on next phase of coronavirus crisis

Merkel and Germany's state leaders to draw up plan on next phase of coronavirus crisis
Angela Merkel attending a meeting on June 16th. Photo: DPA
Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet with state leaders on Wednesday face-to-face for the first time in over three months to discuss the next phase of the coronavirus crisis. Here's what we can expect.

The leaders of Germany's 16 federal states are to meet with Chancellor Merkel on Wednesday afternoon to thrash out how the country can get through the next phase of the coronavirus pandemic.

They are to meet face-to-face in the Chancellery for the first time since mid-March. During the height of the pandemic they moved meetings to video and telephone conferences.

Here's what's on the agenda.

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Can Germany survive the economic slump?

Coronavirus is still on the minds of politicians. But the discussions are no longer so much about dealing with the pandemic – and instead are about the consequences, and how to keep the country afloat.

The state premiers and Merkel will discuss the how to organise and put in place the €130 billion economic stimulus package that the grand coalition, made up of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed on earlier this month.

This includes the question of what proportion of measures the federal government will take on, and which ones the individual states will steer.

On Tuesday, Merkel warned of possible setbacks. The German economy is suffering a huge slump, she told her party colleagues on Tuesday, according to DPA. No-one can predict consumer behaviour during this stage of the pandemic, she said, adding that it's a very tense time.

How can the aid work in practice?

Some of the economic stimulus package has already been put in place, such as the temporary VAT reduction from July to the end of the year, and the €300 child payment (Kinderbonus) for families.

Explained: How does Germany's Kinderbonus coronavirus payment work?

Now it is a matter of more practical questions. For example, the planned tax relief for single parents is to be granted automatically and unbureaucratically without the affected people having to apply for it. So how can this work without hiccups?

Meanwhile, the planned state emergency reserve for medical protective equipment and medicines should last for at least a month, a draft paper on the meeting says.

And laptops and tablets for pupils in need, which the federal government is financing with a €500 million programme, are to be ready to use in schools after the summer holidays, and available for kids to borrow. It means everyone can be more prepared if distance learning has to take place again.

In addition, the meeting on Wednesday will deal with the speedy processing of the bridging aid for small and medium-sized enterprises, which are losing a particularly large amount of sales due to the pandemic, and with the loss of trade tax revenue for the municipalities.

Families are to recieve a €300 bonus for each child with the Kinderbonus programme. Photo: DPA

Another topic on the agenda is the accelerated expansion of mobile communications networks. Can Germany really get its act together when it comes to moving forward with digital infrastructure?

Will there be any dispute over face masks and social distancing in Germany's states?

In the past weeks, Germany's states have been gradually relaxing coronavirus restrictions. Throughout the crisis, there's been some conflict over how quickly this should happen.

However, the majority of states have stuck to the rule of mandatory face masks on public transport and shops, and the 1.5 metre distance rule between people who don't live together.

Before the meeting, Söder said he did not expect leaders to clash over this issue. But he warned against a lack of clarity: despite all the different ways Germany's 16 states are dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, an “extreme patchwork quilt” must not be allowed to develop.

Yet there are already differing voices. In Saxony, politicians are thinking about an end to the obligation to wear face masks when shopping, for example. But the decision depends on an agreement at federal level, said Saxony's Health Minister Petra Köpping (SPD).

At least in schools, the distance rule could be dropped after the summer holidays. The President of the Conference of Education Ministers and Rhineland-Palatinate education minister Stefanie Hubig (SPD) had spoken out in favour of this.

READ ALSO: Schools to 'return to normal' for German kids after summer holidays

Full-day care for primary school-age children

From 2025 onwards, all parents with children who attend primary school in Germany will be legally entitled to childcare that lasts until the end of the working day.

This topic, which is the latest initiative by Family Minister Franziska Giffey (SPD) and Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) will be on the agenda as they are concerns that the funding is not enough.

“In itself, we think the idea of all-day care is excellent, but the amount of money the federal government has made available so far is nowhere near enough to shoulder this challenge,” said Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CSU) ahead of the meeting.

Giffey and Karliczek urged for this to be put on the agenda of Wednesday's meeting in order to move forward with the relevant legislation.

According to estimates, the expansion of the approximately 15,000 primary schools will cost €5 to €7 billion. So far, the government planned to provide states with €2 billion but the funds are now to be increased.

First 'real life' meeting in three months

Merkel and the heads of states last met in person on March 12th.

In the days that followed, public life in Germany was gradually shut down: schools and daycare centres were closed, as were restaurants, bars and other facilities. And then the contact restrictions were introduced.

READ ALSO: How Germany's new multibillion aid package will benefit you

Since then, the Chancellor and local leaders have discussed the further course of action in the coronavirus pandemic in several video conferences. Increasingly, this has revealed differences over the pace of relaxation of measures. Since the beginning of May, the federal states have increasingly been doing their own thing.


However, North Rhine-Westphalia's head of government Armin Laschet (CDU) is now advocating a joint approach. “Coping with the Corona pandemic is and remains a challenge for the entire state,” Laschet told the “Rheinische Post”.

“Not least in view of the upcoming travel season, we need a common framework of federal and state governments with the right toolbox of protective measures, hygiene concepts and contact tracing.”

Whatever happens, this meeting signifies the next stage of dealing with the consequences of the pandemic in Germany and how the country can move forward.
 


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