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Angela Merkel: EU facing its greatest test since its founding

Jill Petzinger
Jill Petzinger, Germany Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media to announce further measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19. (Clemens Bilan/Getty Images)

German chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of a finance meeting of the Eurogroup this week that it was in the interests of Germany that other EU countries could be financially supported during and after the coronavirus crisis.

“From my point of view, the European Union is facing its greatest test since its founding,” Merkel said at a press conference in Berlin on Monday 6 April. “Germany, too, will only do well in the long run if Europe is also doing well.”

She said that members have been asked to put forward their suggestions at the meeting on how the EU can face the crisis.

Merkel, who is under pressure from Spain, France, and Italy, to support so-called “corona bonds” which would see EU-wide debt mutualisation, said several financial mechanisms were on the table to help, including the European Stability Mechanism, which offers credit lines with low-levels of conditions, and the European Commission’s new fund to support short-time workers to prevent job losses.

Merkel said that Germany is also ready to contribute to an economic recovery programme once the crisis was over. Merkel and her finance minister Olaf Scholz have expressed strong opposition to the idea of Germany assuming debt for other EU countries.

Asked about the ongoing lockdown in Germany, and when she thought restrictions could be lifted, Merkel said that hers would be a bad government if it “didn’t think day and night” about when it would be possible to ease the nation-wide measures, but it would be just as bad if it were to lift restrictions too soon and endanger lives.

She said that the federal government had agreed with the states that people who live in Germany and have been abroad for more than a few days should be quarantined for two weeks upon their return to Germany. However, no quarantine is likely to be required for commuters and service technicians who have to travel in and out of the country briefly for work.  

Merkel returned to the chancellery in central Berlin at the end of last week, after two weeks in self-quarantine to undergo tests as she had seen a doctor who later tested positive for coronavirus.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which is in charge of Germany's coronavirus monitoring said on Monday that the number of infections had risen by 3,677 in the past 24 hours to Monday morning, marking a drop in new infections for the fourth day in a row. RKI data puts the German confirmed coronavirus cases at 95,931, and death toll at 1,434.

RKI statistics tend to be a little lower than those of Johns Hopkins University due to data-collection methods. Johns Hopkins reported just over 100,000 cases and 1,584 deaths in Germany as of Monday.

Face mask fracas

German finance minister Olaf Scholz said on a Sunday talkshow that the government is increasing its efforts to buy face masks. "We need unbelievable amounts of masks. Our entire effort is going towards procuring them,” he said.

A row blew up between the US and Germany last week, after Berlin’s interior minister Andreas Geisel said a German order of 200,000 3M masks for the Berlin police force from China had been confiscated in Bangkok, Thailand and presumably diverted to the US.

 "We consider this an act of modern piracy," Geisel said in a statement. "This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, Wild West methods shouldn't rule."

The US company 3M denied the accusation, saying in a statement that: “3M has no evidence to suggest 3M products have been seized. 3M has no record of any order of respirators from China. We cannot speculate where this report originated.”

"The United States government has done nothing to redirect 3M shipments destined for Germany, nor did we know anything about such shipments," the US embassy in Berlin said.

The accusation from Berlin highlights the pressure governments face trying to find and buy enough protective medical supplies for hospitals and others in the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic.