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'Face mask scandal' undermines confidence in politics

Volker Witting
Volker Witting
March 9, 2021

The current "face mask scandal" is likely to cost Germany's conservatives dearly. Those involved have squandered politicians' greatest asset: trust, says Volker Witting.

A factory for making masks in Urumqi, China
Two German parliamentarians have made money by brokering mask dealsImage: VCG/imago images

In a crisis, people rely on their political leaders. And during the past few months of this nerve-wracking coronavirus pandemic, people have had trust in them. Recent approval ratings for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government have been much higher that they were for a long time. Times of crisis tend to be good times for those in political power.

But the months of trust in the chancellor and her Cabinet might now be over. For several weeks now, public approval of the government's pandemic management has been sliding. This is hardly surprising in view of the many glitches in the vaccination and testing drives, the broken promises, the resurgent number of coronavirus infections and a chancellor who is no longer able to assert herself against powerful state premiers and has given up trying.

Mask deals instead of morals

And now this: Two members of the German Bundestag from the conservative parliamentary group of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and their Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU) have been lining their pockets, collecting six-figure "consulting fees" in face mask deals. And despite being caught out, they didn't want to relinquish their places in the parliament and their parties. It was only after days of enormous pressure that Nikolas Löbel (CDU) and Georg Nüsslein (CSU) finally gave in.

Volker Witting
Volker Witting is a DW politics correspondent in BerlinImage: DW/S. Eichberg

These two cases might only be the tip of a whole iceberg of corruption. And it is also possible that is it not just conservative politicians who have been involved in dirty deals connected with the highly lucrative coronavirus business. We will find out in the course of the next few weeks.

Löbel and Nüsslein have done politics a grave disservice. They took advantage of their contacts as parliamentarians to make money in an emergency situation. That is not just repellent behavior: It also destroys trust in politics and politicians. And it strengthens the hand of those who are always saying — and all the more during the coronavirus crisis — that those in power are really only interested in shady business deals. The right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party and the coronavirus skeptics will profit, while sincere democrats will suffer. Thank you, Georg Nüsslein and Nikolas Löbel!

Turning point in the coronavirus crisis?

The CDU/CSU party leaders have pledged that the matter will be investigated and proper penalties imposed with due haste. But their parties' reputation is ruined. And that is something that will also become apparent at the ballot box. The first polls in a year that will see a number of elections are scheduled for next weekend in the states of Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate. The CDU's ratings have already plummeted there in recent days. And you don't have to be a prophet to predict that this trend will continue after the face mask scandal. Perhaps it will last all the way to the national election in September.

The mask scandal shows that apparently, some elected representatives have no moral compass and no qualms about turning other people's hardship into money. That benefits people who despise democracy and lack any concept for managing the pandemic but can now pose as moral authorities. Once again: Many thanks to Georg Nüsslein and Nikolas Löbel!

This article was translated from German.

Volker Witting
Volker Witting Volker Witting has been a political correspondent for DW-TV and online for more than 20 years.
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