Merkel and Macron urge ‘strong’ recovery fund for Europe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called for a "strong" and "efficient" coronavirus recovery fund for the European Union, urging a deal to be sealed next month.

Merkel and Macron urge 'strong' recovery fund for Europe
Merkel and Macron speaking in Meseberg, Brandenburg on Monday evening. Photo: DPA

The two leaders met for talks at the German government retreat in Meseberg, days before Germany takes on the rotating presidency of the bloc with an economy mired in the worst crisis since World War II.

Berlin's chairing of the 27-member bloc will be the last with Merkel in charge, and could be the one that defines the legacy of the leader dubbed the “eternal chancellor”.

With the future of the bloc's relationship with Britain still to be determined, a shift to a lower-carbon world in the balance and deteriorating US-China ties all jostling for attention, there is no shortage of issues to

READ ALSO: Merkel and Macron to meet as Germany takes on high-stakes EU presidency

But it is the coronavirus pandemic and the economic devastation it has wrought that will concentrate minds.

At talks at the German government retreat in Meseberg, both leaders made a push for €750 billion recovery fund proposed by European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen.

The Franco-German pair had sketched out the backbone of the fund but it has run into opposition from so-called “frugal nations” like the Netherlands and Austria.

Hard-hit southern European countries such as Italy and Spain have called on the EU to loosen its purse strings in the response to the crisis.”We hope we'll find a deal (in July), even if the road is still long,” said Merkel.

“What is important for me is that we come out of the debate with a strong instrument. There will of course be changes that must be discussed. But it must remain a fund that… really helps countries that are hardest hit by the crisis.”

Macron had blunt words for the hold-out nations, warning that it would “not be in their interest to see certain members — in particular, members of economic significance in the European economy — affected” by a scuppered deal.

“So it's solidarity to have this transfer but also it is in their own interests.”

German 'bulldozer'

Germany takes on custodianship of the bloc with a strong hand as it has withstood the health emergency better than most other member states.

Once an obstinate champion of budgetary rigour, Merkel's government has ditched its no-new-debt dogma to throw resources at the crisis.

Its programme to shore up the German economy totals more than one trillion euros in spending, loans and guarantees.

Together with Macron, Merkel last month proposed a massive recovery fund to jumpstart the bloc's economy.

The fund would offer grants with no repayment obligation to countries hardest hit by the pandemic, a major policy U-turn for Berlin.

With an eye on the devastating blow taken by Spain or Italy, Merkel had said that it was “imperative that Germany not only thinks of itself but is prepared for an extraordinary act of solidarity”.

On Monday, she noted that perhaps sceptical nations could be placated as long as beneficiary nations took action at home to improve their economy.

“What is very important for many that are still sceptical is the wish that we all come out of the crisis strong,” she said.

“That means that the work with a financial plan for Europe and a recovery fund alone won't be enough, but that everyone looks at home how they make themselves resistant for the future.”

'Swan song'

Observers have said that they believe Berlin will ram through an accord.

An EU diplomat agreed, saying: “On the recovery fund, I expect Germany to dictate the whole process. Merkel is holding all the cards and (EU Council chief) Charles Michel will follow that.

READ ALSO: Merkel wins surprise backing from Germany over EU aid U-turn

“She also wants to get Brexit out of the way and she will always go for the deal as she wants to keep the West together. The third leg will be restoring ties with US after the election there.”

Merkel, who has ruled out running for a fifth term next year, will not have much time.

Brexit talks will have to be done by the year's end, and in November the focus will be on whether US President Donald Trump wins reelection.

What is clear is that Merkel's fingerprints will be all over the EU's roadmap.

“This will be a very Merkel presidency, her swan song,” said the EU diplomat, adding that she would be using it “to craft her legacy”.

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Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

German health ministers say that tougher Covid restrictions should come back into force if a serious wave emerges in autumn.

Germany should prepare for Covid wave in autumn, ministers warn

Following a video meeting on Monday, the health ministers of Germany’s 16 states said tougher restrictions should be imposed again if they are needed. 

“The corona pandemic is not over yet – we must not be deceived by the current declining incidences,” said Saxony-Anhalt’s health minister Petra Grimm-Benne, of the Social Democrats, who currently chairs the Conference of Health Ministers (GMK).

According to the GMK, new virus variants are expected to appear in autumn and winter. Over the weekend, federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) also warned that the more dangerous Delta variant could return to Germany. “That is why the federal Ministry of Health should draw up a master plan to combat the corona pandemic as soon as possible and coordinate it with the states,” Grimm-Benne said.

Preparations should also include an amendment of the Infection Protection Act, ministers urged. They want to see the states given powers to react to the infection situation in autumn and winter. They called on the government to initiate the legislative process in a timely manner, and get the states actively involved.

The current Infection Protection Act expires on September 23rd this year. Germany has loosened much of its Covid restrictions in the last months, however, face masks are still compulsory on public transport as well as on planes. 

READ ALSO: Do people in Germany still have to wear Covid masks on planes?

The health ministers said that from autumn onwards, it should be possible for states to make masks compulsory indoors if the regional infection situation calls for it. Previously, wearing a Covid mask was obligatory in Germany when shopping and in restaurants and bars when not sitting at a table. 

Furthermore, the so-called 3G rule for accessing some venues and facilities – where people have to present proof of vaccination, recovery, or a negative test – should be implemented again if needed, as well as other infection protection rules, the ministers said. 

Bavaria’s health minister Klaus Holetschek, of the CSU, welcomed the ministers’ unanimous call for a revision of the Infection Protection Act. “The states must be able to take all necessary infection protection measures quickly, effectively, and with legal certainty,” he said.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s health minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) warned that no one should “lull themselves into a false sense of security”.

“We must now prepare for the colder season and use the time to be able to answer important questions about the immunity of the population or the mechanisms of infection chains,” he said.

On Tuesday, Germany reported 86,253 Covid infections within the latest 24 hour period, as well as 215 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence stood at 437.6 infections per 100,000 people. However, experts believe there could be twice as many infections because lots of cases go unreported. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about the Covid pandemic in Germany right now