The Prime Minister’s praise to his deputy was clear. A popular gesture when those who have had to give in want to regain sovereignty. And so the North Rhine-Westphalian Prime Minister Armin Laschet (CDU) expressly praised his Vice Joachim Stamp (FDP).
Most recently, there had been tensions in the black-yellow coalition due to differences in the question of appropriate corona crisis management. Because the FDP sees the lockdown extension until March 7th as critical and considers earlier openings to be sensible. Laschet and Stamp therefore tried to demonstrate the return to the earlier harmony at a joint appearance in Düsseldorf on Tuesday.
Laschet praised Stamps “phase model” for openings in the pandemic, spoke of “important suggestions” for the next steps in fighting the pandemic. The order of the day: “Remain cautious and at the same time lead debates about how perspectives for culture, for the economy, for business life and for the self-employed can be opened up.”
At the moment openings are only possible “to absorb severe damage”, such as in schools and day-care centers. But other areas have to be discussed. “We need new ways of dealing with the pandemic,” said the CDU party leader. For Stamp, this meant that the FDP’s point of view has prevailed in the black-yellow coalition in Düsseldorf.
Until a few days ago, Laschet had defended the continuation of the lockdown, which he himself had agreed with the Chancellor in the round of prime ministers, and had no hope of any openings. Then, however, he made a sudden U-turn: In front of the CDU Economic Council in Baden-Württemberg, which is in the state election campaign, he suddenly introduced easing and even warned against “invented” limit values as criteria for opening steps.
Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is one of the strictest in the fight against pandemics, also spoke on Monday in the CDU Presidium about a relaxation strategy in “packages” and thus reacted to the increasing pressure from the countries.
Stamp also sympathetically noted this shift in emphasis in the Chancellery. He was pleased that the “idea of thinking in phases shaped by different indicators” had received a lot of positive feedback and was included in further deliberations, including in the federal government, said the NRW government vice-president at the press conference. He also interpreted this to mean that the Chancellor no longer wanted to base openings on incidence values alone.
Almost two weeks ago the free democrat had one “Phase model” for “responsible openings” presented in the pandemic and thus also increased the pressure to act on Laschet and the CDU.
According to this, the federal and state governments should not be based predominantly on incidence values, i.e. the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days, but should consider other criteria, such as the incidence value in people over 80, the situation in hospitals and the vaccination rate. Additional pressure on Berlin had also come from other regions.
Schleswig-Holstein was the first federal state to have it at the end of January own opening plans presented. Lower Saxony followed suit.
Out of caution, Laschet remains imprecise
Laschet, on the other hand, only reverted to his own statements from April 2020 when he was in the first phase of closure Exit Strategy and had called for the protection of fundamental rights. After months with a wait-and-see, restrictive attitude and loyalty to the Chancellor, he generated growing resentment among his coalition partner FDP.
Now it seems as if Laschet remains imprecise with his current stance on opening strategies as a precaution. He is against “step-by-step plans”, but praises “phase models” and says nothing against “package solutions”. Apart from the different terminology, the same principle is hidden behind it: a catalog of conditions and criteria for further openings.
Laschet is at least following the general political trend of daring more openings, and this eases the situation in the Düsseldorf government alliance. How sustainable the peace is will also depend on the Prime Minister’s Conference on Wednesday next week, which will discuss the situation after March 7th. The NRW Prime Minister is on probation because, according to the FDP, he did not advocate opening perspectives at the previous federal-state round.
“The 16 countries expect us to come up with an opening strategy. What will then be opened will then be decided based on what has happened, ”said Laschet. Every day one struggles for the right solutions, that does not go along party-political lines. The NRW head of government does not want to commit himself and also gives no indication that he is adopting the promised phase model from Stamp.
The risk that the number of infections will rise again due to the virus mutations is too great. Then the next disappointment would be programmed, and Laschet would be embarrassed because of his lack of assertiveness.
At least the CDU boss let it be known that the widespread use of rapid tests could become an important condition: “The more we test, the more we know, the better we can fight the virus and break chains of infection.” Corona self-tests that ab March would be available, would “make life even easier”.
As cautious as Laschet remains, at least he dared a long-term perspective on Tuesday: “I would like that next year in February 2022 we will have overcome the pandemic and its effects, that we have so many vaccinations that we are back to normal life and maybe celebrate Carnival again. ”