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Germany's enduring democracy

Witting Volker Kommentarbild App
Volker Witting
April 23, 2020

After weeks of lockdown, lawmakers are holding the government accountable. Angela Merkel has criticized some response measures. It's a relief to see democratic debate resume in Germany, DW's Volker Witting writes.

Berlin: Bundestag — Coronavirus, Angela Merkel
Image: Reuters/A. Hilse

Governments take charge in times of crisis. Indeed, to get the current coronavirus pandemic under control, Germany's government has curtailed civil liberties, massively reduced our freedom of movement and almost forced the economy to a standstill. By and large, Germans and their parliamentarians have supported these drastic steps. Parties across the political spectrum have come to together to back the government's emergency funding packages worth billions of euros and the accompanying lockdown measures.

Witting, Volker
DW's Volker Witting

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bundestag briefing on her government's strategy for confronting the pandemic on Thursday (pictured) has made it clear that parliamentary democracy is still alive and well in Germany. Debate continues on pensions, the extent of government arms expenditures, pensions and, of course, what the appropriate steps are to weather the coronavirus pandemic — and much more.

Read more: German Ethics Council picks apart coronavirus lockdown debate

Merkel called curtailing basic freedoms the most difficult decision she has ever made. She has referred to the crisis as an "acid test" and stressed the role of solidarity within the country and across the European Union. Merkel said allowing shops to gradually reopen and public life to resume was very risky. "We haven't seen the worst yet," she has told Germans. She warned that steps to ease lockdowns in some German states were "bold — too bold." In a conference call with her fellow Christian Democrats on Monday, Merkel called discussions on lifting restrictions excessive and reckless.

Read more: EU leaders hold video summit over economic woes in lockdown

Many opposition members of the Bundestag took issue with the chancellor's criticism. Christian Lindner, who leads the laissez-faire Free Democrats, called "for the state to be obliged to justify itself whenever it curtails basic rights." And Alexander Gauland, the Bundestag leader of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party, said constituents should not blindly trust their leaders and should not be patronized or forced to accept all decisions.

Read more: Coronavirus pandemic is a stress test for democracy

Germany has been on coronavirus lockdown for over a month. Slowly, it seems, the country is returning to normality. And that applies just as much to our politics. We are engaging in healthy debate once more. German democracy, therefore, is functioning just as it should.

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