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German lawmakers split over vaccine rights proposal

July 26, 2021

Germany's justice minister has stressed her opposition to compulsory vaccination and restrictions for those refusing the jab. Angela Merkel's chief aide has suggested increasing freedoms just for vaccinated people.

Christine Lambrecht during a press conference in June
Families and Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht ruled out the possibility of introducing mandatory vaccinationsImage: Bernd von Jutrczenka/dpa/picture alliance

German lawmakers and officials have rushed to stake their positions in a growing debate over proposals to encourage vaccine uptake.

A series of key figures expressed their support or criticism on Monday, following comments by Chancellor Angela Merkel's top aide over the weekend.

Merkel's Chief of Staff Helge Braun said in an interview on Sunday that those who refused vaccines should not expect to be given the same freedoms as those who have been fully vaccinated.

The immunization rollout is progressing in Germany, with almost 50% fully vaccinated. However, the rate has slowed recently and authorities are worried about a possible fourth wave as the highly contagious delta variant spreads through the country.

What did the critics say?

Families and Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht rejected Braun's proposal of barring unvaccinated people from restaurants, cinemas and the like. She defended the current system of allowing access to "vaccinated, recovered or tested" people, but suggested that the government could stop offering free tests to people who refuse the vaccine.

"There will be no general vaccine obligation," Lambrecht said in an interview with radio broadcaster Deutschlandfunk.

Christian Lindner, head of the business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP), also opposed restrictions for unvaccinated people, similarly pushing for a continuation of the testing strategy.

"Test-based opening concepts proved successful during the last wave," he told public broadcaster ARD on Monday.

Lindner also slammed the CDU-led Cabinet over Braun's comments, as well as the Green party state premier of Baden-Württemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, who had previously brought up the idea of introducing full mandatory vaccination.

Merkel's successor in the conservative bloc (CDU/CSU), Armin Laschet, had already distanced himself from what he called "compulsory vaccination."

A government spokesperson clarified that mandatory vaccines would not be introduced through the "back door."

"We want to do everything to avoid a situation like the one we saw in spring," Ulrike Demmer said in Berlin on Monday. Cases have increased by 75% in a week, and if this continues then "we will have to take further measures," she added.

A question of basic rights

Frank Ulrich Montgomery, chairman of the World Medical Association, came out in support of the proposal to ensure more rights for vaccinated people in an interview with the Funke Media Group on Monday.

He argued that there was no reason that people who are fully vaccinated or who have reached immunity should be denied their basic rights "just because a few perpetual skeptics are shirking the vaccine."

It is a question of removing the restrictions on basic rights rather than giving vaccinated people privileges, he told the media group.

He was following in the vein of German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer who said in an interview with broadcaster RTL/ntv on Sunday that Braun's proposal "is not a discrimination against the unvaccinated."

However, constitutional lawyer Stephan Rixen issued a warning against blanket rules as a means of encouraging vaccine uptake.

The member of Germany's Ethics Council told TV broadcaster Bayern 2 that while the state may indeed distinguish between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in its policies, it must offer objective reasons.

The state needs to ask itself if proof of vaccination is the only way that it can get the risk of infection under control, he said. "I think that won't necessarily happen in this situation solely through vaccine documentation," Rixen warned.

ab/nm (Reuters, dpa, EPD, KNA)