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POLITICS

Scholz gets stinging defeat in parliament with Covid jab vote

In a tough week for the government, Germany's Olaf Scholz has suffered a stinging defeat in parliament and renewed criticism over his handling of the Ukraine war.

German chancellor Olaf Scholz
German chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) arrives in the Bundestag for a vote on the vaccine mandate. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

The German chancellor suffered a painful defeat in parliament on Thursday, with lawmakers voting down a government-backed proposal for mandatory vaccinations for people above 60.

Scholz, who in late November touted compulsory jabs for all adults as the surest way out of the pandemic, had set a goal of introducing the jabs in “late February or early March”.

But the effort has petered out since, as even some members of the liberal FDP, which is part of Scholz’s coalition, are opposed.

After weeks of wrangling to find a formulation that could win a majority, a government-backed proposal for over-60s to get vaccinated was put to the vote on Thursday.

But only 296 lawmakers voted in favour, while 378 parliamentarians cast their ballots against.

The defeat was all the more embarrassing as the proposal was already significantly watered down to include only those above 60, a smaller group than the originally targeted adult population in general.

READ ALSO: German parliament rejects over-60s vaccine mandate

While Covid infections remain high in Germany, the push for jabs in recent weeks has lost momentum as hospitals have been far from overwhelmed.

Germany has also eased most Covid curbs, including lifting a mask requirement in schools and shops, while the public’s attention has also focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Neighbouring Austria’s decision in March to suspend mandatory jabs for all adults further bolstered the case of those opposed to making vaccinations compulsory.

Around 76 percent of Germany’s population has received two doses of the vaccine, and 58.9 percent have also received the booster.

Opponents of mandatory jabs meanwhile cite individuals’ freedom to choose.

Trying to rally MPs to vote for the government-backed proposal, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said that if the Omicron variant remained dominant, 200 to 300 people will continue to die daily in Germany.

“Do we as a society want to accept that?” asked Lauterbach. “That is not what I would call a humane society.”

‘No leadership role’

With the vote in the balance, the chancellor even got Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock to ditch a NATO meeting on Ukraine in Brussels to return to Berlin to cast her ballot at the Bundestag, according to German media reports.

The opposition CDU party immediately slammed the move.

“That honestly is a completely unreasonable signal, also to the world because we’re saying: ‘No, Ukraine is not that important. Germany has no leadership role here,” Paul Ziemiak, the party’s former general secretary lashed out.

Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel following his party’s surprising win at last year’s general elections, has been under pressure at home and abroad for failing to take on a bigger role in the Ukraine crisis.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Bundestag

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky receives a standing ovation after his address to the Bundestag on March 17th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

While he announced a 180-degree turn in Germany’s foreign and defence policies, with huge spending earmarked for the military, critics say his government is not moving fast enough with arming Ukraine or in punishing Russia with tougher sanctions.

With 55 percent of Germany’s gas imports stemming from Russia before Moscow’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine, Berlin has refused to impose a full embargo on Russian energy.

Scholz’s muted response to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s direct appeal to him in parliament in mid-March also sparked an outcry.

READ ALSO: 

In an address to the Bundestag then, Zelensky implored Scholz to “tear down this Wall” that he said Russia was building in Europe.

“Give Germany the leadership role that you in Germany deserve,” he pleaded.

But Scholz did not address parliament immediately afterwards, saying only in a brief tweet that “we feel obliged to do everything we can so that diplomacy has a chance and the war can be stopped.”

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POLITICS

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

Germany will reinstate its so-called debt brake in 2023 after suspending it for three years to cope with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, sources in the finance ministry said Wednesday.

Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The government will borrow 17.2 billion euros ($18.1 million) next year, adhering to the rule enshrined in the constitution that normally limits

Germany’s public deficit to 0.35 percent of overall annual economic output, despite new spending as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the sources said.

The new borrowing set out in a draft budget to be presented to the cabinet on Friday is almost 10 billion euros higher than a previous figure for 2023 announced in April.

However, “despite a considerable increase in costs, the debt brake will be respected,” one of the sources said.

Although Germany is traditionally a frugal nation, the government broke its own debt rules at the start of the coronavirus pandemic and unleashed vast financial aid to steer the economy through the crisis.

READ ALSO: Debt-averse Germany to take on new borrowings to soften pandemic blow

The government has this year unveiled a multi-billion-euro support package to help companies in Europe’s biggest economy weather the fallout from the Ukraine war and sanctions against Russia.

Berlin has also spent billions to diversify its energy supply to reduce its dependence on Russia, as well as investing heavily in plans to tackle climate change and push digital technology.

But despite the additional spending, Finance Minister Christian Lindner has maintained the aim to reinstate the debt brake in 2023.

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