Berlin, April 23rd, 2020
German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a government statement on the Corona crisis in the Bundestag earlier this day. She stressed that we will have to live with the virus for a long time to come: “We are not living in the final phase of the pandemic, but still at its beginning.” No one likes to hear that, but it’s the truth.
The corona pandemic is a democratic imposition, she said, because “it restricts exactly what our existential rights and needs are. For this reason, she said, transparent and comprehensible communication is necessary, and criticism and opposition must be demanded.
In the government declaration, she criticised the countries’ actions as “very brisk, not to say too brisk”. She supports the decisions of the federal and state governments to relax the conditions without reservation. But she also emphasizes: “I am concerned about their implementation so far.” She therefore appeals to the states: “Let’s not squander what we have achieved so far and risk a setback”.
Here's the full English transcript of the government statement by Angela Merkel translated using the combination of custom-trained machine translation models and expert linguists:
Mr President, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing very extraordinary and serious times, and we all, the government and Parliament, are being put on probation, which has not happened since the Second World War, since the founding years of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is about nothing less than the life and health of people. It is about cohesion and solidarity in our society and in Europe. I am standing before you as the Chancellor of a Federal Government which in recent weeks, with the Federal States, has decided on measures with no historical model to which we could refer. We have sent draft laws to Parliament and have asked them to grant funding in amounts that were simply unimaginable before the coronavirus pandemic.
I thank you very much for the fact that the German Parliament, as well as the Federal Council, under difficult circumstances, has consulted and decided on the legal measures extremely quickly. We have been living with the pandemic for weeks; each of us has had to adapt our lives to the new circumstances, both privately and professionally.
Every one of us can say what he or she is especially missing, what is especially hard. I understand that life under coronavirus conditions feels very very long for everyone. No-one likes to hear it, but it is the truth that we are not living in the final phase of the pandemic but are still at its beginning. We will have to live with this virus for a long time. And the question of how we prevent the virus from overwhelming our health system at any time and consequently costing countless people their lives, this question will be the central question for politics in Germany and Europe for a long time. I am aware of how difficult the constraints are for us all, individually, but also as a society. This pandemic is an imposition on democracy because that is precisely what it restricts: what our existential rights and needs are, those of adults, as well as those of children. Such a situation is only acceptable and tolerable if the reasons for the restrictions are transparent and understandable. If criticism and contradiction are not only allowed but are asked for and listened to by both sides. A free press helps to do this, our federal organization helps to do this.
But the mutual trust that has been experienced in the last few weeks here in Parliament and everywhere in the country also helps. How as a matter of course the citizens have applied themselves to help each other and restricted themselves as citizens for each other, that is admirable. And let me assure you that hardly any decision during my term as Chancellor, has been as hard for me as the restrictions on personal freedoms. I am also burdened by the fact that at the moment children are not simply able to meet their friends totally carefree and miss it so much. I am also burdened by the fact that people are currently basically only able to go for a walk with another person outside their household and always have to pay attention to maintaining the so important minimum distance.
And I too am particularly burdened by what people have to endure living in care facilities, senior and disabled facilities, where loneliness can anyway become a problem, it is much more lonely in these pandemic times completely without visitors. It is cruel when apart from the care workers who do their very best, no-one can be there when strength dwindles and a life reaches its end. We’ll never forget these people and the temporary isolation in which they have to live. These 80, 90 years old have built up our land, the prosperity in which we live, they have founded it. They are Germany just like us, their children and grandchildren and we are fighting the battle against the virus for them as well.
I am therefore also convinced that the harsh constraints are nevertheless necessary to survive this dramatic crisis as a community and to protect that which our constitution puts at the center of our action: the life and dignity of each individual person. Due to being strict with ourselves, the discipline and patience of the last few weeks, we have slowed down the spread of the virus. That it doesn’t come to this, this is the simple and at the same time so demanding goal of the Federal Government and I thank our health minister Jens Spahn, but also the state health ministers who are working so tirelessly towards this goal and with visible successes. We have significantly expanded the number of respiration beds.
We have ensured With the CoViD-19 Hospital Discharge Act that hospitals can build additional intensive care capacities. Thus, today, we can see that our health system has been passing its probation so far. Every coronavirus patient receives the best possible treatment preserving human dignity, even in the worst cases.
More than all state measures, we owe this to the sacrifice and work of doctors, nurses, carers, and rescue workers, of so many people who, with your hard work and your drive make what we often simply call our health system. We thank you with this applause and in this thank you I would also like to include soldiers from the Federal Army who help in many places.
Perhaps less seen in public, but equally crucial in the fight against the pandemic, is the role played by the public health service. This is almost 400 local health authorities and if we are to manage to control and contain infection in the coming months, then we need these offices in a strong condition and I say in a stronger condition than they were before the pandemic. And that's why the federal government and the states have just agreed to give these authorities more employees, so that, for example, they can effectively administrate these extremely important, yes, crucial tasks, namely to track the contacts of infected persons. The RKI will also set up 105 mobile teams of students, the so-called containment scouts, which can also be deployed where special needs exist.
From the outset, the Federal Government has also devoted itself to the issue of personal protective equipment. The supply of these goods, especially medical protective masks, has quickly become one of the central tasks. Not only for us but the whole world, because without healthy doctors and caregivers, the existing intensive beds and respiratory equipment are useless. The situation in the world markets for such material is tense. We can say that the trading habits in the first weeks of the pandemic were rough. That is why the Federal Government, although we do not have the responsibility under the Infection Protection Act decided to coordinate the procurement of personal protective equipment centrally and to distribute the commodities to the federal states. I am also grateful to the companies that have helped us with their experience The pandemic has taught us that it is not good when protective equipment is exclusively sourced from distant countries.
Masks costing a few cents can become a strategic factor in the pandemic. The Federal Republic of Germany and the European Union are therefore working to become more independent of third countries in this area. That is why we are working under full power on expanding capacities for protective goods in Germany as well as in Europe. If we ask ourselves what has benefited us in this first phase of the spread of the virus, this is, in addition to the relatively many intensive care beds, the high test capacities, and the dense laboratory network.
The experts tell us to, test, test, test. Thus, we gain a better picture of the epidemic in Germany. We gain more clarity about the hidden number of infections. Thus, caregivers can be tested more frequently and thus the risk of infection can be reduced in hospitals and homes. Therefore, we have continuously expanded the capacity for comprehensive testing and will further expand it.
Nevertheless, we will eventually only end the coronavirus pandemic with a vaccine, at least according to everything we know about the virus today. Researchers are looking for this in several countries worldwide. The Federal Government helps with financial support, so that research Germany can also play its part. Similarly, we are also financially supporting international initiatives such as the Cepi vaccine initiative. The Federal Government has also provided funds in the short term for the development of medicines and a new National Research Network for CoViD-19. This helps researchers and doctors at all German university hospitals to work hand in hand on these tasks. We will still need many studies, including antibody studies, which will take place in the future, we are well equipped for these studies.
But science is never national, science serves humanity. Therefore, it is self-evident that when medicines or a vaccine are found, tested, released and ready for use, they must then be available all over the world and be affordable for the whole world. A virus that spreads in almost all countries can only be restrained and contained through the interaction of all countries.
International cooperation against the virus is of paramount importance to the Federal Government. We vote in the European Union as well as in the G7 and G20. We were, with the decision to suspend all interest and amortization payments this year for the poorest 77 countries in the world able to take some pressure off these heavily tested states, but this support will not remain.
When I say that, of course, it does not change the fact one iota that I accept the sovereignty of the federal states which, according to our constitution, is entrusted to them in many matters. Of course, not even one iota in the case of the Infection Protection Act, which I fully respect I do not accept iota. Our Federal organization is strong and so that there is no misunderstanding, which is why I wanted to make it clear once again.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we look here in Germany at the latest RKI figures then the indicators show that they are going in the right direction. For example, a slowed down infection rate, there are currently more recoveries daily than new cases. This is an intermediate success, but precisely because the numbers give rise to hopes, I see myself obliged to say that this intermediate result is fragile, we are walking on thin ice, you can also say on the thinnest of ice. The situation is deceptive and we are by no means out of the woods. Because in the fight against the virus we must always bear in mind that the figures of today reflect the infections from about 10-12 days ago. Thus, the current number of new infections does not tell us what it will look like in one or two weeks if we have, in the meantime, allowed a much greater number of new contacts.
Dear colleagues, I would like to take this opportunity to explain once again a little more in detail what concerns me. Of course, political decisions are always part of a continuously moving process, in accordance with the best of one’s knowledge and belief. This also applies to the decision to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which is of utmost importance for the well-being of the people of this country.
In this extremely important weighing up, which no one, neither in the federal government nor in the federal states, makes lightly, I know, when it comes to combating the coronavirus, I am convinced that if at the very beginning of this pandemic, apply the greatest possible endurance and discipline, then we will be in a position to be able to develop the economic, social and public life more rapidly and sustainably. And this is faster than if we have a false sense of security false security due to the context of encouraging infection numbers at the start. So, if we are disciplined at the beginning, we will be able to more quickly create a life of equal health and economy and health and social life.
Even then the virus will still be there, but with concentration and endurance, right at the beginning, we can avoid switching from one to the next shutdown. Groups of people have to isolate themselves from all the others for months. Living with terrible conditions in our hospitals, as was, unfortunately, the case in some other countries. The more enduring and consistent we endure at the beginning of the pandemic and thus push the infection down, the more we serve not only human health but also economic and social life. So we would again be able to consistently identify every chain of infection and thus control the virus, this conviction guides my actions. I am therefore saying to you quite openly, I support the decisions that the federal government and states have taken on Wednesday last week with full conviction. Yet their implementation has since given me cause to worry. It strikes me that they are in parts very brash, not to say too brash. It would be a crying shame if we were to be punished by the premature hope in the end. Let’s all remain wise and careful on the path to the next phase of the pandemic. This is a long route because we cannot lose the drive and get out of breath too early. It’s clear that we initially can’t return to everyday life as we knew it before the coronavirus. Everyday life will sometimes look different for the time being even when the current digital tracing models can be used.
The strict social distancing rules, hygiene regulations, and contacts will continue to be part of this. This also affects, for example, the opening of schools and daycare facilities. The states are also in the process of implementing, or preparing for, the gradual opening of schools. This will require a great deal more of more imaginative action. I thank everyone who is currently working for this and I know that this is very many.
I have spoken at the beginning of the largest probation period since the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany and this unfortunately also applies to the economy. How deep the losses will be at the end of the year and how long they will last. We cannot say in all seriousness today when the recovery will start because this also depends on our success in dealing with the virus.
The pandemic has hit us in a time of healthy households and strong reserves. Years of solid policies are helping us now. It is about supporting our economy and raising a protective shield for workers. Millions of applications for various aid programs have been received, millions of people and companies have already received money. We were able to adopt all these legal measures quickly and with an overwhelming majority. Our parliamentary democracy is strong, it is able to perform and is extremely fast in times of crisis. We in the Coalition Committee also decided on further measures yesterday evening, they are informed about it. Yet all our efforts at national level can ultimately be successful if we are also successful together in Europe. You have often heard me say that in this House, Germany too, can only have it good in the long term if Europe also has it good, and I am again very serious about this phrase today. How is this expressed in a practical way? For example, we have treated more than 200 patients from Italy, France or the Netherlands in German intensive care units. We have supplied medical material, for example, to Italy and Spain. We have brought home, along with our citizens, thousands of other European citizens from all over the world. Thank you very much for this to all the employees of the Federal Foreign Office. You cannot believe how many Germans are outside of their borders but we were also able to help many Europeans, thank you for that.
We also worked together to tackle the massive collapse of the European economy. We are doing this with a package of aid efforts for companies and employees at an amount of at least 500 billion euros. This was agreed by our finance minister Olaf Scholz and the other finance ministers in the Eurogroup two weeks ago.
Now it is about making these EUR 500 billion genuinely available, the German Federal Council will have to make decisions for this. I would be pleased if we could say that the money is really there on 1 June 2020. It is about helping small and medium-sized enterprises. It is about precautionary credit lines and it is also about money for short-time work, for which some Member States may not have the financial resources, but which can help workers there a lot. Now, some of our partners, but also those in the German political discussion of the serious crisis, are calling for joint debt, with joint liability. This question will certainly once again play a role at the European Council's video conference this afternoon.
Let us assume that there is both the time and the political will for common debt and that it really exists. Then all the national parliaments in the European Union and also the German Parliament would have to decide to amend the EU Treaties in such a way that part of the budgetary law would be transferred to the European level and democratically controlled there. This would be a time-consuming and difficult process and could not directly help anyone in the present situation. It is about prompt help and having speedy instruments in hand which can ease the results of the crisis. It will also be discussed at today's European Council how we want to proceed in Europe in the time after the most severe restrictions. We want to act quickly in Europe, as of course, we need instruments to overcome the consequences of the crisis in all Member States.
I think it is important, in this context, first of all, that the European Commission continuously examines, both now and in the coming weeks, how the different sectors of the European economy are affected by the crisis and what action is needed as a result. This also affects immediate aid for the European economy. A European economic recovery program could support the necessary recovery over the next two years, which is why we will work for it. It will not be about establishing details or deciding the scope in today’s consultation. One thing is clear: we should be prepared, in a spirit of solidarity and over a limited period, to make completely different, which means significantly higher contributions to the European budget, and we want all the Member States of the European Union to be able to recover economically.
However, such an economic recovery program should be thought through in conjunction with the European budget from the outset. The common European budget has been the trusted instrument of solidarity for decades of funding common tasks in the European Union. Furthermore, today I will insist that the European Council should soon deal with fundamental issues. Where do we need to work together even more closely at European level? Where does the European Union need additional competencies? What strategic capabilities do we have to have or maintain in Europe in the future? We could not only deepen this Union in terms of financial policy, digital policy, and the internal market, but European solidarity is also sought after in terms of migration policy, the rule of law, European security and defence policy, and climate protection. Mr. President, dear colleagues, the commitment to a united Europe is part of our reason of State.
This is not material for political soapboxes, it is completely practical. We are a community with the same destiny. Europe must now prove itself in this unforeseen challenge of the pandemic. This pandemic affects everyone, but not all the same. If we do not watch out, it serves as a pretext for all those who drive the division of society. Europe is not Europe if it does not also understand itself as Europe.
Europe is not Europe if it's not there for each other in times of undeserved hardship. We also have the task of showing who we want to be in Europe in this crisis. So, at the end of my speech, I have come back to the idea of cohesion. What applies to Europe is also the most important thing for us in Germany. As paradoxical as it sounds, in weeks when the rules of conduct have forced us far apart and distance is necessary instead of closeness, we have kept together. Through solidarity, we have managed together that the virus has slowed down on its way through Germany and Europe. This cannot simply be ordered by a government, in the end, a government can only hope for such a thing. This is only possible if citizens do something for their fellow human beings with heart and reason, for their country, call it for the greater good.
I am infinitely grateful for this and I hope that we will continue to go through this next time in this way. It will remain very difficult for a long time. But together, I am convinced of this after these first weeks of the pandemic, we will manage to overcome this gigantic challenge. Together as a society, together in Europe. Thank you very much.