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ANGELA MERKEL

‘Nothing to do with facts’: Merkel slams coalition partner in row over face masks

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday rapped her junior coalition partner SPD in an ugly row over claims that Germany's health minister planned to dole out sub-standard masks to the homeless and disabled.

'Nothing to do with facts': Merkel slams coalition partner in row over face masks
Merkel at a press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Reuters/Pool | Annegret Hilse

Spiegel magazine had reported that Health Minister Jens Spahn of Merkel’s CDU party had spent a billion euros on masks that allegedly turned out to be below par.

In a bid to use them up, his ministry looked at distributing them to the disadvantaged, according to the report.

But after the SPD-led labour ministry opposed the move, the masks finally ended up in the national reserve as emergency stocks in case of a new crisis.

The report sparked an outcry, prompting the leaders of junior coalition partner SPD to demand Spahn’s resignation.

“Jens Spahn’s behaviour is inhumane,” charged SPD co-leader Saskia Esken.

As accusations flew, Merkel rode to Spahn’s rescue.

At a meeting of the CDU top brass on Monday, she said the accusations were “simply not backed up by facts”, party sources told AFP.

“It’s about putting the fight against the pandemic in a bad light,” she said, according to party sources. “One must calmly and clearly tell the SPD that that has nothing to do with the facts.”

The decision for the masks to make up the national reserves was “made with the SPD,” she said, adding that “we all support Jens Spahn”.

CDU party chief Armin Laschet, who is her conservative would-be successor, also accused the SPD of “seeking to get points through a negative campaign attempt”.

The health ministry sought to set the record straight, saying that the masks in question met “infections protection standards” and had been tested including by medical experts.

The disagreement with the labour ministry had been over which set of certification criteria to apply, it added.

Merkel’s CDU has been in an awkward partnership with the Social Democrats since 2013, something which the general election on September 26th is expected to end.

The centre-left SPD has seen a big drop in voter share over the years, and has repeatedly accused Merkel’s conservatives of getting the credit for policies they spearheaded.

READ ALSO: These are the dates you need to know for Germany’s ‘super election year’

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POLITICS

Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)
 

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.

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