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POLITICS

German MPs set out plans for over-18s vaccine mandate

A few days before the first deliberations on compulsory Covid vaccinations in the German Bundestag, politicians in favour of a vaccine mandate have set out details of their plans.

Vaccine sceptics protest in Saxony
Vaccine sceptics protest against a potential mandate in the town of Bautzen, Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Sebastian Kahnert

Speaking to DPA over the weekend, Dirk Wiese, the deputy chairman of the SPD Parliamentary Group who is working together with other politicians from the traffic coalition to flesh out proposals for the vaccine mandate, provided details of their plans.

According to Wiese, jabs could be made compulsory in Germany for anyone over the age of 18 for a limited period of one to two years. People who ignore the mandate or don’t have sufficient vaccine protection will be hit with fines. 

Though the idea of a centralised vaccine register has been floated in the past weeks, the so-called traffic light coalition parties (SPD, Greens and FDP) are keen to avoid this because it would be too time-consuming.

Instead, they would have vaccinations and exceptions checked by local public health officers.

On Friday, Wiese, together with six politicians from the Greens and the FDP, announced a group motion for compulsory vaccination from the age of 18 in a letter to all members of the Bundestag – except those of the far-right AfD party.

READ ALSO: German MPs to decide on general vaccine mandate ‘in March’

Green Party health politician Janosch Dahmen is one of the politicians tasked with shaping the legislation.

“Compulsory vaccination can make society more peaceful because it provides clarity,” he told Bild am Sonntag.

Both Dahmen and Wiese want to see fans levied on people who aren’t sufficiently vaccinated as opposed to more coercive punishments like prison sentences. 

Dirk Wiese (SPD)

Dirk Wiese (SPD) speaks in a debate on home affairs on January 12th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

According to the Administrative Offences Acts, government fines can be set anywhere between €5 and €1,000 unless a specific law says otherwise. That means that that fines levied on the unvaccinated could be even higher.

In neighbouring Austria, where a vaccine mandate is due to come into force in February, fines are set at a maximum of €3,600. 

Dahmen has previously come out in favour of a fine “in the middle three-digit range”, while Wiese has suggested that some of the penalties could be means-tested. 

In a press conference held in December, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) said that people who disobeyed vaccine mandates would face “considerable” fines.

Three shots rather than two

If the traffic light’s vaccine mandate law is voted through by parliament later this year, three jabs would be required for someone to count as fully vaccinated, rather than the previous two. 

“On the basis of current studies, one can say that with three vaccinations one has achieved a good basic immunisation against a severe course of Covid,” Wiese explained.

However, if a further booster jab is recommended for certain groups of the population later in the pandemic, this additional shot would be voluntary. 

Wiese said the duration of the vaccine mandate would be guided by advice from the Covid Council of Experts, but would likely be one to two years.

The plans laid out by the governing SPD, Greens and FDP coalition aren’t without competition, however.

So far, FDP health expert Andrew Ullmann has put forward an alternative draft law that would see a vaccine mandate introduced solely for the over-50s age group, while Bundestag vice president Wolfgang Kubicki (FDP) is gathering support for legislation against compulsory jabs.

READ ALSO: Scholz pushes mandatory jabs as resistance grows in Germany

Vaccine mandate for health workers falters

According to reports in Tagesspiegel, a plan to introduce mandatory Covid jabs for health workers is facing major opposition from state leaders.

Though the law has already been passed by the federal parliament, states are allegedly pushing for the introduction of the law to be postponed until a so-called ‘dead’ or ‘inactivated’ vaccine – where the virus is killed off – from Novavax is available on the market.

Politicians in favour of postponing the legislation believe that the new vaccine could find more public acceptance than the current mRNA and viral vector vaccines. 

A recent survey of vaccine hesitant people found that around half of those who hadn’t got vaccinated against Covid would do so if they could get an inactivated or dead vaccine. 

This type of vaccine involves growing a virus and then killing it off to prevent any disease-creating capacity. 

State leaders are also reportedly concerned that nurses who are against vaccination could fail to turn up to work once the new law is introduced, exacerbating existing staff shortages. 

READ ALSO: ‘I was against vaccine mandates in Germany – until hospitals became overwhelmed’

“We don’t want there to be a loss of nursing capacities in the nursing and hospital sector,” Bavarian state premier Markus Söder (CSU) told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

In his view, it would be highly counterproductive if an exodus of nursing staff led to an overload of the healthcare system.

The federal government should therefore once again examine introducing a vaccine mandate for all, he argued. 

Member comments

  1. Are the AfD no longer classed as members of the Bundestag?
    This legislation only has likely end dates and
    I dont believe for one second that additional shots would be voluntary.
    Forced vaccination equals guaranteed profits and secure jobs for the politicians afterwards.

  2. From the country that brought you forced sterilisation and forced euthanasia , now a forced experimental ‘vaccine’ also ‘for the greater good’. Ignore the echoes of history at your peril. Real democracy means persuading the public and it’s messy and not as efficient as diktat but it’s what we want. We have no desire, for the greater good or otherwise, to see old German methods or indeed current Chinese methods deployed against us.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany’s state elections

German state elections don't tell us everything about the public mood, but the past few votes have revealed some pretty clear winners and losers. While support for the SPD is flagging, the Greens are growing in stature by the day, writes Brian Melican.

Why the Greens are the real winners of Germany's state elections

It’s one of the peculiarities of Germany’s federal system that we’re almost never more than six months away from an election being held somewhere. Alongside the national elections (Bundestagswahl) usually every four years, each of the 16 states also hold ballots (Landtagswahl) on varying cycles; then there are local and mayoral elections, too. As such, rolling campaigning and more-or-less continuous election analysis are a part of life here: “What does Election X say about Government Y?” is a question you will always hear being asked somewhere.

Nevertheless, regional elections have a habit of clustering – and generally come at points when national governments would rather not have people poring over electoral data. And this year, after barely six months in office, Olaf Scholz’ novel tri-partite traffic-light coalition has already been faced with three regional elections – in Saarland (27th March), last week in Schleswig-Holstein (8th May), and yesterday in North-Rhine Westphalia (15th May). On a regional level, the popularity of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) has already been thoroughly tested. 

Understanding state elections

The key thing to remember about German regional elections are that they both are and aren’t about national politics. Firstly, here’s how they aren’t. At a basic level, these regional elections are simply about voters choosing a government to deal with state-level remits (mainly health, education, and housing). They will vote first and foremost on these issues.

Personality politics are also important: long-serving German state premiers frequently garner the unofficial honorific Landesvater or Landesmutter –  literally: ‘father/mother of the state’ – and benefit from high personal approval ratings, allowing them to withstand changes in mood at national level. So it is by no means infrequent for voters to return completely different parties in regional than at national elections. By way of example, while Olaf Scholz, SPD, remained a popular Landesvater figure in Hamburg, Merkel’s CDU still won more Hamburg votes at national elections.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Sunday’s state parliament vote in NRW is important for German politics

Then again, regional elections also are about national politics. That’s because they never take place in a vacuum (except for in Bavaria, of course, where everyone always votes CSU). Even the most beloved of state premiers faces an uphill struggle if their party is currently making a hash of things in Berlin. What is more, the larger and the more representative the Bundesland, the more results of its elections can show swings in voter mood which may be of national relevance.

The Greens’ slow ascent from their mid-2000s funk to their current swagger began in Baden-Württemberg: winning control of this state populated by 11 million people and many of Germany’s top industrialists showed that voters trusted them to be part of a government. That set the ball rolling and by the time of last year’s national election, the Greens were already in power in half of federal states. Incidentally, it is often overlooked that state governments make up the Bundesrat, the second chamber of parliament, which can accept or refuse laws made by the Bundestag. So shifts in power here can be of national relevance.

This dichotomy has the predictable effect that, in the aftermath of every Landtagswahl, the losing parties usually claim that it was simply a regional ballot with nothing to say about national politics while the winning parties play up the significance at federal level.

Olaf Scholz and Thomas Kutschaty

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) congratulates Thomas Kutschaty, SPD candidate in North Rhine-Westphalia, after the party wins 26.7 percent of the vote. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

An SPD disaster 

This is why it is very bad news for Olaf Scholz and the SPD that their only victory in spring 2022’s three Landtagswahlen was in dinky little Saarland, a state whose population is smaller than that of a major city like Cologne and whose local politics are so marked by rivalries and infighting as to have little-to-no relevance nationally. Despite winning an absolute majority in the regional parliament at Saarbrücken (a rare feat in proportional representation), there was no way the SPD could claim a national bearing – and, to its credit, didn’t try to do so either.

In Schleswig-Holstein, the SPD wasn’t expected to unseat the CDU’s Daniel Günther, a likeable and well-liked premier coming to the end of five years at the helm of a surprisingly successful Jamaica coalition with the Greens and the FDP. Here, too, the national relevance was relatively low: Schleswig-Holstein has only 3 million inhabitants and few large towns and cities. Nevertheless, losing over half its seats while the Greens and CDU gained by the same amount was not a good result for the SPD.

What was disastrous, however, was last night’s result in North-Rhine Westphalia. With a population the size of the neighbouring Netherlands (17 million) and everything from Germany’s largest urban conurbation down to isolated mountain regions, NRW is often considered a microcosm of the country as a whole. As something of a swing state, parties which succeed here often go on to win the next national election (if they aren’t already in government).

READ ALSO:

What is more, unlike in Schleswig-Holstein, NRW was the SDP’s to win. Until last year, its premier was the luckless Armin Laschet (remember him?), who plumbed popularity depths in his failed bid to become Chancellor. He then left a badly-damaged CDU-FDP administration to Hendrik Wüst, a successor whose profile, if he had one at all, was defined by various low-level corruption scandals (including a regrettable incident where he sold slots with the then-NRW premier, Jürgen Rüttgers, to high-paying commercial lobbyists…).

Hendrik Wüst (CDU)

Re-elected NRW state premier Hendrik Wüst (CDU) celebrates his victory. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Even if Wüst proved to be an unexpectedly good campaigner and the SPD’s Thomas Kutschaty remained oddly faceless, the fact that Olaf Scholz himself got involved and that the SPD still ended up with its worst showing in NRW ever is nothing less than a serious defeat for both the Chancellor and his party – one which, in my view, underlines how Scholz has not yet lived up to expectations.

Nevertheless, he is in luck. Firstly, the electoral cycle means that this upset is occurring at the beginning of his term; there will be time to recover. Secondly, although Wüst gets first crack at forming a government, the Greens are his only real potential partner – and will take a lot of courting. NRW Greens are on the more left-wing end of the spectrum and will play the field, potentially trying to usher in a mini traffic-light coalition in Düsseldorf if it looks feasible later.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Scholz is already out of step with Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Growing support for Greens

So after the post-Merkel rout, the CDU has scored an important and much-needed victory, but harnessing it to get momentum nationally may yet prove difficult. Indeed, it’s the Greens who have come out of the last two weekends with a new swing in their step. Following a disappointing national election last year, they have once again hit their stride, due in no small part to the Ukraine reminding voters of why renewable energy is important on the one hand and the impressive figures cut by Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock in government on the other.

For the FDP, things are not looking so good. Despite negotiating a disproportionately high amount of their manifesto into last year’s agreement, they are suffering the fate of many a junior coalition partner: a lack of profile. On strictly regional terms, they lost votes to the popular Daniel Günther in Schleswig-Holstein (perhaps unavoidably, despite a good record as part of his coalition) and to the not-yet-popular Hendrik Wüst (following lacklustre performance in government in Düsseldorf).

Greens party posters NRW

Posters featuring Greens candidate Mona Neubaur highlight the link between fossil fuels and Russia’s authoritarian leadership. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Roberto Pfeil

Worryingly for Christian Lindner, however, this may be harbinger of history repeating itself. Essentially, FDP voters tend to get enthusiastic for a business-friendly go-getter type who promises to lower taxes and slash regulation, only to later turn their back on him when, once part of a coalition government, he proves unable to deliver the small-state free-for-all promised. That’s what happened to Guido Westerwelle in the 2009-2013 administration, in any case.

There is, however, one bit of unadulterated good news for all parties and indeed our country as a whole: the AfD lost vote share everywhere. The populist outfit didn’t even make it into parliament in Schleswig-Holstein and only just scraped in in NRW. It would seem that, in times of crisis, voters don’t want to add to the list of potential disasters by putting populists anywhere near power. This is a hypothesis we’ll be able to test in just under six months’ time, by the way, when Lower-Saxony goes to the polls on 9th October. 

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