Angela Merkel is right. This year we were faced with something totally unexpected. That’s why Merkel focused much of her New Year’s speech – the last in her chancellery – on the coronavirus pandemic, which defined what she called the ‘relentless’ year of 2020.
While she spoke briefly about climate change and establishing more equal living conditions in Germany towards the end of her speech, everything else was about the virus outbreak – and, in particular, how it is shaping our lives.
Call for solidarity
Merkel is often accused of applying an overly sober and analytical approach even to major challenges. But somewhat unusually, in early 2020, Merkel gave a speech in which she touched on what she saw as the most important qualities now needed in German society: solidarity and acceptance of large restrictions. against coronaviruses and unprecedented measures.
And in her New Year’s speech, she made another call for this same kind of social cohesion. It comes at a time when many are tired of the bad news and feel angry or bewildered by the chaos surrounding Germany’s vaccination program. It was therefore vital to recognize the enormous efforts that Germany has made in 2020 and will continue to have to make in 2021.
Putting people at the center of the stage
In her speech, Merkel called on people to take a moment to remember all of those who have died. She has not mince words about the small minority who deny the existence of the coronavirus, calling the conspiracy theories they espouse “dangerous and false” – and cruelly cynical of coronavirus victims and their loved ones.
Merkel praised doctors, caregivers, bus drivers, supermarket workers, police officers, soldiers and those working in the German health services. She also mentioned artists and business leaders fearing for their livelihood.
Despite the general emphasis on the pandemic and its effects, Merkel also alluded very briefly to a hotly debated issue that had been closely associated with her Chancellery until the outbreak of the epidemic: the issue of the volume of immigration – and the number of asylum seekers – Germany. can cope. She spoke about the German company BioNtech, which developed the vaccine against the coronavirus which is currently administered around the world. A company, she noted, that employs people from 60 different countries – illustrating that diversity is a force for progress. It was almost as if she wanted this diversity to be seen as part of her heritage.
Anyone who expected Merkel to apologize for the serious mistakes made in handling the pandemic, especially over the past three months, will have been disappointed. Instead, she described the past 12 months as a process of continuous learning.
But she also refrained from blaming German state prime ministers, some of whom have eagerly called for the lifting of coronavirus restrictions imposed in spring into summer.
And, refreshingly enough, she didn’t swear at ordinary people like she did recently when she seemed to equate drinking mulled wine on the streets with an attack on public health.
No unnecessary arguments
Merkel did not dwell on the very controversial question of who will be vaccinated in which order. Instead, in her typically rational way, she simply said, “I too will be vaccinated when my turn comes.” By what it is effectively designated: let’s not have a foolish argument on this subject.
Without the coronavirus crisis, Merkel might have used her last New Year’s speech to reflect on her 15-year term. Yet to do so now, in these difficult times, would have been inappropriate. The length of Merkel’s tenure will now be defined by whether the country will succeed in tackling this virus so that Germany can thrive again. Success is not guaranteed and Merkel knows it. It is therefore not yet the right time to take stock of its chancellery.
This article has been adapted from German