At the end of last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel took the unusual step of issuing a personal apology to the nation as she performed a U-turn on plans to put Germany under a hard lockdown over Easter. The Chancellor had come under heavy fire for the snap decision to designate Maundy Thursday and Easter Saturday additional “days of rest” on which public life would largely grind to a halt. It was left unclear whether people would be expected to work, whether they would be paid and how shops would obtain deliveries of perishable items such as meat and vegetables.
Announcing the abrupt about-turn, Mrs Merkel took personal responsibility for what she said, insisting: “Of course I know this whole process has set off additional uncertainty. I regret that profoundly and I ask all citizens for forgiveness.”
The German government has not covered itself in glory recently, particularly over its response to the pandemic.
In a recent podcast, POLITICO’s Andrew Gray and Matthew Karnitschnig discussed the German political scene, arguing there is a lot of frustration about the vaccine rollout but also anger over “corruption associated with the virus”.
Mr Karnitschnig explained: “Over the past month, there have been a string of cases involving prominent and not so prominent German officials and politicians who have been accused of benefiting from mask deals.
“As people will remember there was a shortage of masks across Europe last spring.
“And the German government, in particular the German Health Ministry, put out a call for mask suppliers, basically saying they were looking for them.
“Turns out they got offers from some very surprising places, including a German magazine publisher, which is surprising in itself.
“More surprising is that the magazine publisher in question ended up selling the government over 500,000 masks.”
That in itself, Mr Karnitschnig noted, might have been a small footnote if it weren’t for the fact that the husband of the German Health Minister, Jens Spahn, works for the publisher.
He added in the podcast titled ‘EU Confidential’: “His husband says he knew nothing about this deal.
“Yet, it sort of represented this overall feeling that there is a lot of funny business going in the background involving the government response to the pandemic.
“And there is also a lot of anger in Germany about the slowness of rolling out the vaccine.
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“It has been a bit of a disaster.”
Both the Health Ministry and the company involved have denied any preferential treatment in the mask procurement deal Mr Karnitschnig mentioned.
A spokesman for the company, called Hubert Burda Media GmbH, said: “Mr Daniel Funke was never informed of nor involved in the transaction at any point in time.”
The Health Ministry likewise said the mask deal was made in accordance with federal rules.
A spokesman told news agency AFP the contract “was concluded and carried out after receiving offers in a standardised process at market prices”.
However, the reports came amid growing scandals and accusations of graft against Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister-party, the Christian Social Union.
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Alfred Sauter, former state justice minister for Bavaria, announced that he was giving up his CSU party posts after he came under investigation for corruption over mask procurement contracts.
Mr Sauter denies any wrongdoing in the case.
Moreover, prosecutors opened a case against senior CSU lawmaker Georg Nüsslein, accusing him of accepting hundreds of thousands of euros to lobby for a mask supplier.
Another lawmaker, CDU parliamentarian Nikolas Löbel, also resigned over a separate mask scandal.
Prosecutors are also looking into his business deals with mask procurement.
The continuous stream of scandals and corruption allegations have hit the conservatives hard just six months before Germany’s general election.
Last month, the CDU suffered historically low results in two key states, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.