In the budget debate in the German Bundestag, Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the draft budget for 2021. Planned spending is dominated by moves to address the pandemic, and by the consequences of COVID-19. "We are living in exceptional times. We are facing a challenge, the like of which the Federal Republic of Germany has never seen," she explained, justifying the estimated new borrowing of almost 180 billion euros.
Germany, stressed the Chancellor, is currently "at a critical phase, perhaps at the critical phase, of efforts to fight the pandemic". The second wave is tough, and in spite of the contact restrictions in place, the trend in new cases has not been reversed. "Case numbers are far too high," said Angela Merkel. There are too many people in intensive care, and there are too many deaths.
Angela Merkel used her speech to pay tribute to victims and to thank the doctors and nurses who are fighting every day to save the sick. "I must say quite openly that we don’t thank them enough. An enormous thank you for what you are doing, and for everything they are achieving."
In view of the approaching festive season, Angela Merkel called on everyone in Germany to be vigilant. "If we have too many contacts now, before Christmas, and this ends up being the last Christmas we have with our grandparents, we will have done something wrong," she warned.
For a free and open country like Germany, it is not bans and controls that are the most important keys to successfully tackling the pandemic, but the need "for every individual to act responsibly, and be willing to be part of the solution". The vast majority of people have shown that they are ready and willing to be considerate, to put aside their own interests and to do the right thing, said the Chancellor. "I am convinced that the vast majority of the population is still willing to do so. And I am heartily grateful," she underscored.
Angela Merkel urged her audience to take seriously the most recent recommendations issued by the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. Further reduce contacts, close businesses, extend school holidays or move to online learning – the goals is still to push case numbers down to below 50 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The Chancellor declared that she believes "there are genuine scientific findings and that we should align our actions with them".
The pandemic, said Angela Merkel, has also shown what we can achieve, "when we take our courage in our hands, when we act with stamina and creativity and when we cooperate across borders". The fact that newly developed vaccines are available at vaccination centres within such a short period of time "is completely unprecedented in human history". Angela Merkel expressed her hope that the vaccine would have a positive impact on the groups that have seen the highest number of deaths, among the elderly.
The 2021 federal budget is worth some 500 billion euros. Germany is to borrow 180 billion euros. The budget puts in place the conditions that will allow Germany to retain its strength – as the fourth largest economy in the world, as an important partner in Europe and the world, and as a recognised free, open, democratic country with strong social cohesion and a strong civil society. "This strength is what guides us in the budget."
One important political focus, said Angela Merkel, is the education drive in the digital field, and the goal of establishing competence centres and an education platform. One important improvement for families is the new regulation that will allow parents to take 15 days off work per child per year to look after sick children. Child benefit is to be increased, and the solidarity surcharge is to be discontinued. A total of 750 million euros will be dedicated to research into vaccines, while 9 billion euros will be provided for hydrogen-related research, and 2 billion euros each for artificial intelligence, quantum technology and mobile telephony technology. It was right to introduce the short-time work allowance and to extend the scheme, said the Chancellor. For many people it is a bridge that works, she added. It is also right to raise the advance payment for affected companies to 50,000 euros.
"This is not how we envisaged our Presidency of the Council of the European Union," said Angela Merkel with a view to the EU. The agreement on the fair distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine is an achievement, however. Germany holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union until the end of the year. In the case of Brexit, there is still a chance of a deal. "The integrity of the Single Market must be preserved," said Angela Merkel, declaring this the overriding condition. Apart from this, the goal of agreeing on ambitious climate targets in the EU remains.