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ANGELA MERKEL

Germany and Europe ‘on thin ice’ amid rise of Delta variant, Merkel warns

Chancellor Angela Merkel used what could be her last parliament address to discuss the "encouraging" Covid situation, the rise of the Delta variant and international politics.

Germany and Europe ‘on thin ice’ amid rise of Delta variant, Merkel warns
Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in the Bundestag on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Merkel is bowing out of German politics at the next federal election in September after nearly 16 years as chancellor.

In what could be her final government statement in the Bundestag, Merkel talked about the Covid-19 situation in Europe and Germany, saying that although things had improved massively, there was still work to be done. 

She said the fight against the pandemic over the last 18 months has kept countries “holding our breath, at home and internationally”.

Merkel went on to say that Europe could be “cautiously optimistic”, adding that in Germany and most member states “case numbers are sinking considerably” and the “number of vaccinated people is rising”.

However, she said the pandemic is not over.

“Even though there is reason to be hopeful, the pandemic isn’t over, particularly in the world’s poor countries,” said Merkel. 

“We in Germany and the EU are also skating on thin ice,” she said. “We must remain vigilant. New variants in particular, notably the Delta variant, mean we must be cautious.

In Germany, the Delta variant now makes up about 15 percent of new cases, according to the Robert Koch Institute. 

However, the incidence rate in Germany currently stands at just 6.6 cases per 100,000 people within seven days. 

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On the topic of digital health passports, Germany has “done its homework,” Merkel said. Around 29.2 million digital vaccination certificates have been issued to people across the country since the launch earlier in June. 

Merkel urged for lessons to be learned from the pandemic. She said it had become clear that the initial shock had mainly been dealt with at a national level and not collectively.

When it came to restrictions, there has been too much hesitation, said Merkel. And there are still difficulties in coordinating travel rules for people entering EU countries. 

Merkel’s statement came ahead of an EU summit with the 27 heads of state, which is set to begin on Thursday afternoon in Brussels. 

EU must ‘seek direct contact with Putin’

Merkel also said the EU should seek direct talks with President Vladimir Putin even as it stands together against “provocations”.

“In my opinion, we as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” she told parliament.

“It is not enough for the American president to talk to the Russian president,” she said, stressing that the European Union too “must also create different formats for talks”.

Putin and US President Joe Biden held face-to-face talks last week, in a meeting that both said could lead to a more predictable, albeit still tense, relationship.

Merkel said recent events had shown that it was not enough “if we react to the multitude of Russian provocations in an uncoordinated manner”.

Rather, the 27-member bloc should put up “a united front against the provocations”.

Moscow is at loggerheads with a number of Western capitals after a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a series of espionage scandals that have resulted in diplomatic expulsions.

In a latest case adding to tensions, Germany arrested a Russian scientist working at a German university, accusing him of spying for Moscow.

The ongoing detention of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who received treatment in Berlin after a near-fatal poisoning, has also sparked outrage in the EU.

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POLITICS

Sleep, seaside, potato soup: What will Merkel do next?

 After 16 years in charge of Europe's biggest economy, the first thing Angela Merkel wants to do when she retires from politics is take "a little nap". But what about after that?

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes and smiles at a 2018 press conference in Berlin.
Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly closes her eyes at a 2018 press conference in Berlin. Aside from plans to take "a little nap" after retiring this week, she hasn't given much away about what she might do next. Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

The veteran chancellor has been tight-lipped about what she will do after handing over the reins to her successor Olaf Scholz on December 8th.

During her four terms in office, 67-year-old Merkel was often described as the most powerful woman in the world — but she hinted recently that she will not miss being in charge.

“I will understand very quickly that all this is now someone else’s responsibility. And I think I’m going to like that situation a lot,” she said during a trip to Washington this summer.

Famous for her stamina and her ability to remain fresh after all-night meetings, Merkel once said she can store sleep like a camel stores water.

But when asked about her retirement in Washington, she replied: “Maybe I’ll try to read something, then my eyes will start to close because I’m tired, so I’ll take a little nap, and then we’ll see where I show up.”

READ ALSO: ‘Eternal’ chancellor: Germany’s Merkel to hand over power
READ ALSO: The Merkel-Raute: How a hand gesture became a brand

‘See what happens’
First elected as an MP in 1990, just after German reunification, Merkel recently suggested she had never had time to stop and reflect on what else she might like to do.

“I have never had a normal working day and… I have naturally stopped asking myself what interests me most outside politics,” she told an audience during a joint interview with Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

“As I have reached the age of 67, I don’t have an infinite amount of time left. This means that I want to think carefully about what I want to do in the next phase of my life,” she said.

“Do I want to write, do I want to speak, do I want to go hiking, do I want to stay at home, do I want to see the world? I’ve decided to just do nothing to begin with and see what happens.”

Merkel’s predecessors have not stayed quiet for long. Helmut Schmidt, who left the chancellery in 1982, became co-editor of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit and a popular commentator on political life.

Helmut Kohl set up his own consultancy firm and Gerhard Schroeder became a lobbyist, taking a controversial position as chairman of the board of the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

German writer David Safier has imagined a more eccentric future for Merkel, penning a crime novel called Miss Merkel: Mord in der Uckermark  that sees her tempted out of retirement to investigate a mysterious murder.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel forms her trademark hand gesture, the so-called “Merkel-Raute” (known in English as the Merkel rhombus, Merkel diamond or Triangle of Power). (Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP)
 

Planting vegetables
Merkel may wish to spend more time with her husband Joachim Sauer in Hohenwalde, near Templin in the former East Germany where she grew up, and where she has a holiday home that she retreats to when she’s weary.

Among the leisure activities she may undertake there is vegetable, and especially, potato planting, something that she once told Bunte magazine in an interview in 2013 that she enjoyed doing.

She is also known to be a fan of the volcanic island of D’Ischia, especially the remote seaside village of Sant’Angelo.

Merkel was captured on a smartphone video this week browsing the footwear in a Berlin sportswear store, leading to speculation that she may be planning something active.

Or the former scientist could embark on a speaking tour of the countless universities from Seoul to Tel Aviv that have awarded her honorary doctorates.

Merkel is set to receive a monthly pension of around 15,000 euros ($16,900) in her retirement, according to a calculation by the German Taxpayers’ Association.

But she has never been one for lavish spending, living in a fourth-floor apartment in Berlin and often doing her own grocery shopping.

In 2014, she even took Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to her favourite supermarket in Berlin after a bilateral meeting.

So perhaps she will simply spend some quiet nights in sipping her beloved white wine and whipping up the dish she once declared as her favourite, a “really good potato soup”.

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