"You must take the virus as seriously as ever!"
When she gave her New Year’s address, she could not have imagined what 2020 would bring, said Angela Merkel at the start of the traditional summer press conference. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented challenge, that has changed all of our lives dramatically. "The virus is an imposition on democracy," declared the Chancellor on Friday in Berlin.
People in Germany have demonstrated common sense and solidarity
We must expect some things to become even more difficult over the next few months than they are now in summer, the Chancellor continued. "Over the next few months it will be important to keep infection levels down, once we begin to spend more time indoors again," she said. Since, in spite of the intensive research work that is ongoing, we still have neither a vaccine nor a treatment, the Chancellor said that her fundamental attitude is one of "vigilance and attentiveness, especially since we have seen such a significant rise again in the numbers of new infections over the last few weeks".
The last six months have also given her confidence, though, said Angela Merkel. "Because together, all of us, citizens and state have so far coped really well with the challenge facing us." Germany has been spared the dreadful experiences that some other countries have seen, with hospitals unable to cope. "This is because we have a good health system and because people have been sensible." She will be eternally grateful for this, said the Chancellor.
Asked what she personally missed most as a result of the pandemic, Angela Merkel said, "Meeting people spontaneously!" She reported that she had been pleasantly surprised to discover how well video conferences do work though, even for her work.
Key issues – education, economy, cohesion
Over the next few months Angela Merkel sees three priorities in the way we deal with the pandemic:
Education: "Children must not be the losers. Their education must be the top priority. Schools must leave no one behind."
Economy: "We need to keep our economy going, and strengthen our innovative force – in the fields of climate technology, digitalisation and the energy transformation, for instance.
Social cohesion: "The pandemic hits some sections of society much harder than others." And that makes it important to focus support on the elderly, job-seekers, small businesses and students who have lost their part-time jobs.
Presidency of the Council of the European Union during the pandemic
At this challenging time, Germany holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of 2020. Angela Merkel expressed her regret that some of the events that Germany had been looking forward to, cannot now be held. For the immediate future, she said, the focus must be on guiding the 27 member states through the crisis and ensuring that they emerge strongly from it. The recovery fund agreed must come into effect in 2021. "In spite of the crisis, we must not lose sight of the issues that will be critical for our futures: climate action, and digitalisation. The EU needs to catch up or move into a leading position in these areas," declared the Chancellor.
In the months ahead, reported the Chancellor, she expects the European Commission to publish proposals on migration policy. Displacement and migration will be an issue that affects us well into the 21st century, said Angela Merkel. Asked about the assertation she made about taking in refugees at the 2015 summer press conference, "We can do it!", the Chancellor stressed that she would basically take the same decisions again. You can control borders, but when so many people come, it cannot be at their expense. "They must be treated as people," said Angela Merkel.