Covid: what Germany has done well
There is a lot of dissatisfaction with the political handling of the coronavirus pandemic in Germany.
It’s not just because of the fourth wave, but it dates back to the chaotic start of the vaccination campaign in early 2021, when a first wave of praise gave way to much criticism. At the same time, the basic confidence of citizens in politics in Germany, as measured by polls, is declining.
Given the Germans’ corona fatigue, one would think the country has done a miserable job of dealing with the pandemic so far. The problem is, the disparagement of politics couldn’t be more wrong.
If we look at the key objective performance indicators for health, social and economic performance in a European comparison, as the forthcoming Bertelsmann Stiftung study highlights Just How Resilient are OECD and EU Countries? Sustainable governance in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, there is more to praise than to criticize policymakers and administrators.
The first success factor is that hardly any other comparable country in Europe has been able to protect the lives and health of its people as successfully as Germany during the pandemic.
In the fall of 2021, in France, nearly 60% more people had died with and from the coronavirus, compared to the population. Meanwhile, Italy and the UK have suffered nearly twice as many casualties as Germany, against a backdrop of much smaller populations.
The second success factor is that this effective protection of the national population has not slowed down the economy. On the contrary, in 2020 Germany experienced a moderate economic slowdown by European standards.
While countries like France, Spain and Italy suffered recessions of between minus eight and minus 11 percent, Germany’s minus 4.6 percent contraction was even slightly smaller than that of the financial crisis. from 2009.
Success Factor Three: The job market has been shown to be very resilient.
The partial unemployment tool has been used on a historically unprecedented scale. This situation has become normal. Signals from the labor market in fall 2021 point more to a new labor shortage than to noticeable prolonged damage from the pandemic.
In the EU, only Malta, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic currently have lower unemployment rates than Germany.
Is it all just a matter of luck?
One attempt to explain the growing alienation between politics and the electorate would be to simply attribute Germany’s first-rate international performance to lucky circumstances, rather than the impact of politics.
This explanation is not waterproof, however, in particular because politics clearly triggered this good performance. Federal and state governments have made decisions in close consultation with scientific expertise in a generally transparent, rational, constitutional, and understandable manner.
In addition, state and federal government parliaments have gained considerable fiscal leeway through their recent fiscal policies – not least because of the institutional assistance provided by the debt brake. Thanks to the significant drop in the public debt ratio over the past decade, it has been possible to fully utilize tax incentives during the crisis.
Germany’s healthcare system, sometimes described by critics as being shattered by cutting costs, has in fact proven it can measure up even in the context of a global pandemic.
And the fact that the world’s most successful Covid-19 vaccine was developed by a German company with revolutionary new technology, is proof of an effective innovation system, which also reflects well the framework conditions provided. by politicians in Germany.
Chess and dissonance
What then explains the growing disenchantment with politics? To me, four answers seem the most plausible.
First, the pandemic has revealed significant deficits in the area of ââdigitization and administrative efficiency. The perception of most people is that we could have weathered the crisis better if, for example, there had already been digitized health administration and half-acceptable IT equipment in schools. These technological shortcomings are rightly blamed on politicians.
Second, German citizens feel increasingly alienated by federalism and the inconsistent crisis communication it introduces. French President Emmanuel Macron, endowed with national executive power, has demonstrated a completely different capacity for action than Chancellor Angela Merkel, who negotiated authoritative decisions during the federal-state vote in the midst of a counter noisy debate.
Third, the restrictions on civil liberties during the pandemic are seriously limiting on everyone. People who are already suspicious of power tend to react negatively to such measures, even to the point of turning to alternative facts or conspiracy theories.
The fourth and perhaps most important reason is that even during the pandemic, fortunately people have not stopped focusing on the big challenges of the future. On the contrary, they continued to look to the future at major outstanding issues such as slowing climate change, overhauling our energy system while preserving the industrial base and ensuring social and economic well-being despite aging. rapid growth of the German population.
If one wanted to solve the enigma of the coronavirus in Germany with a simple formula, it might come down to this: despite all the objective reasons for satisfaction with the performance of politics and administration in the pandemic, Considerable weak points have emerged, raising doubts as to the country’s ability to withstand future major stress tests without a comprehensive overhaul.
Much remains to be done to tackle these issues and contain the current crisis, as the Bertelsmann Stiftung study shows. Despite all this, a dose of optimism is always warranted.