Chancellor Angela Merkel’s New Years speeches were typically ambitious political agenda setting exercises, addressing dozens of broad topics such as immigration and climate change, and sometimes showcasing her latest projects for Germany.
But Ms. Merkel’s speech this year, her 16th as Chancellor, is noticeably different. For her last New Year’s Eve speech as head of government, since she is expected to step down in 2021, she is almost certain to focus on a single topic: the coronavirus.
“The coronavirus pandemic was and is a unique political, social and economic challenge in a century”, says Ms. Merkel in the annually recorded television address, which is followed by millions of German households.
The pandemic killed more than 33,000 people in Germany and made hundreds of thousands more sick. And even if generous government subsidies have averted much of the widespread economic troubles in other countries, long-term economic ramifications for the nation loom.
As the speech suggests, the pandemic has messed up Ms. Merkel’s last full year in office and disrupted a time when she hoped to cement her legacy with leadership skills on issues like climate change, digital transformation and a resilient welfare state.
Abroad, Ms. Merkel had hoped to focus on issues such as refugees and the unity of the European Union during Brexit, and countries like Hungary and Poland were testing the bloc’s liberal values. Instead, she spent much of her time during Germany’s six-month tenure in the rotating presidency of the European Council, traveling to Brussels for meetings to convince EU members to break the budgetary rules and set up a fund to cover the economic impact of the Counteract pandemic.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that we have never had such a difficult year in the last 15 years – and despite all our concerns and some skepticism, we have never greeted the New Year with so much hope. ” She says.
As she stated in the speech, Ms. Merkel will not run in the next elections, which are scheduled for September. In just a few weeks, those in your party hoping to succeed – a powerful governor, a former political competitor, and a senior lawmaker – will be fighting for the leadership of their party.
However, the winner of this competition faces a difficult path to the law firm. None of them are admired as much as Ms. Merkel, who remains Germany’s most popular politician after a decade and a half in office and especially after dealing with the pandemic.
Apr. 31, 2020 at 12:59 am ET
Outside of politics, the country’s liberal consensus also seemed increasingly at risk as tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Covid-19 regulations because they either didn’t or believed the coronavirus was real Government has nothing to do with taking action to stop it.
“I can only imagine how painful it must be for those who grieve for loved ones lost to the coronavirus or even grapple with the ongoing effects of this disease when wanton deniers deny the existence of the virus,” Ms. Merkel calls conspiracy theories about the virus “cynical and cruel”.
The protests have resonated on the far right in the country. A planned gathering of protesters who spoke out against the Covid-19 restrictions in Berlin on Thursday has been banned by authorities, who feared the event would lead to new infections.
In Germany, the tradition of an annual speech by the country leader goes back at least to the turn of the century, when Kaiser Wilhelm II gave speeches from a balcony in Berlin. The practice continued throughout the Weimar Republic (when it first aired) and the Third Reich. For the past few decades, the country’s president has traditionally given a speech at Christmas and the chancellor at New Year’s Eve.
Even if Ms. Merkel speaks of the hope that came with the coronavirus vaccinations that began in Germany on Sunday, she admits that the situation was still dire. “This is a tough winter and it’s far from over,” she says.
The German health authorities are registering record infections despite weeks of blocking and reported 1,129 deaths from Covid-19 in a single day on Tuesday, a record.
Ms. Merkel’s show is likely to be seen by more Germans than the over three million viewers who saw her last year because – for the first time since television broadcasting began in the 1950s – it doesn’t have to compete with the country’s normally boisterous New Year’s traditions . Fireworks have been banned across the country and there are curfews in many places. As in other cities, a reinforced police force was sent in Berlin to patrol the streets and break up meetings.
Ms. Merkel’s last New Year’s Eve speech also takes place after a year in which the normally silent Chancellor was forced several times to contact the Germans directly, usually to gain acceptance of the new coronavirus rules.
Video clips explaining scientific details at first sight went viral when Germans looked to their calm and thoughtful leadership during the crisis.