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VACCINE

Mayor of German city of Halle suspended for skipping vaccine queue

A German mayor was suspended by his own city council after it emerged he had received a coronavirus vaccination in January, despite not being in a priority group.

Mayor of German city of Halle suspended for skipping vaccine queue
Bernd Wiegand in February during a city council meeting. Photo: DPA/Hendrik Schmidt

An overwhelming majority of 34 councillors voted late Wednesday to temporarily suspend Bernd Wiegand, mayor of the central city of Halle.

Wiegand, 64, had previously admitted to receiving the vaccine in January, at a time when it was still only available to older citizens.

READ ALSO: When will I be in line for a Covid-19 vaccination in Germany?

Other city employees and several councillors also reportedly received a jab before their turn.

The mayor denied that he had acted illegally or immorally, however, saying he had been offered the jab in order to avoid excess doses going to waste.

“It’s easy to criticise my decision in hindsight… but it was not unlawful in any way,” he said in a statement in March, suggesting that the scandal was being exploited to “remove a nonpartisan mayor from office”.

Yet his explanations have also varied over time, with Wiegand at one point erroneously claiming that he had been selected at random to receive the excess dose.

The mayor must now await the results of a disciplinary procedure and an investigation by local prosecutors, though he could yet appeal his suspension at an administrative court.

After raiding Wiegand’s offices in February, prosecutors said he was suspected of “misappropriating some of the vaccine doses available to the city since December 2020”, but stressed the presumption of innocence.

Germany’s vaccination rollout has been slower than expected amid supply issues across the EU, with 13 percent of the population currently having received at least one dose.

Wiegand is also not the only German politician embroiled in a pandemic-related scandal.

Several MPs from Angela Merkel’s conservative CDU/CSU alliance have been forced to step down in recent weeks over allegations of corruption in the procurement of protective masks.

The graft scandal has hit Merkel’s party in the polls, with the conservatives slumping to record lows of just over 25 percent six months before September’s general election.

READ ALSO: Suspect arrested in Germany’s ‘face mask scandal’

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COVID-19

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.

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