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Merkel has left the country on the brink

Hannibal Hanschke/Getty Images

Angela Merkel’s “renaissance as a corona crisis manager” has been “shattered” by the second year of the pandemic, say Matthias Geis and Bernd Ulrich in Die Zeit. Six months ago we were the model of German efficiency. Test and trace ran smoothly, two Turkish-German scientists had given the world the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and hospital beds were emptying. Now the state can’t fend off a third wave of the pandemic, even as other countries vaccinate their way towards freedom. “Was jetzt?

The biggest problem is Mutti’s faltering grip, says The Economist. After more than 15 years, she’s leaving office in September, and as her authority drains, Germany is “fraying”. People are tired of lockdowns. Plans for a firebreak at Easter went down so badly that Merkel called it off and apologised. “Freelancing state leaders” are piloting looser restrictions against her wishes. Only 35% of Germans think she’s doing her job properly and support for her Christian Democrat party has plunged. What Merkel needs is unity – the “sluggish” vaccine rollout has proved especially damaging – but the country is falling apart.

It wouldn’t hurt to get the chequebook out, says Philip Stephens in The Financial Times. Joe Biden has shown that splashing $1.9 trillion in stimulus cash works: the IMF reports that the US is one of the few countries on track to exceed its pre-pandemic performance this year. But while some politicians “try to change the weather”, Europe’s most powerful politician is always “reaching for an umbrella”. She begrudgingly signed off on the EU’s piddling €750bn Covid recovery fund, which pales in comparison to Biden’s munificence. That negativity gets you stagnant growth, weak employment and populist politics.

People go way too easy on Merkel, says Roger Boyes in The Times. She gets pigeonholed as an unflappable moderniser, as a trained physicist, on top of the numbers, who has outwitted her “usually male” opposition since 2005. But she has never been forward-thinking. By closing nuclear plants, she made Germany too reliant on Russian gas. She didn’t pause to consider that there was no plan to integrate the million refugees she let into the country in 2015 — now the reactionary far-right Alternative for Germany party is fracturing her CDU coalition. And her clunky public health departments still communicate by fax, need three staff to fill out paperwork for every vaccination, and can’t trace Covid contacts because of data privacy laws. When Germany stirs, it only “creaks into action” — and Europe stumbles obligingly after it.

Germany has always tripped itself up, says Zoe Strimpel in The Sunday Telegraph. I lived in Berlin for a year and what I remember about “the most efficient country in the world” is the “sadistic” paperwork. Getting membership of the state library “took all my ingenuity”. The trains were “terrible, with 90% not on time”. Germany is supposed to be “the world champion at organising”, but that’s always been a bit of a myth.