Those responsible in the federal states have known for some time that the federal-state round of talks next Monday would come to nothing, due to the Chancellor's ebarassing TV appearance on the Sunday evening after the "Easter rest" debacle. The agreement to define Maundy Thursday and Easter Saturday as quasi shut-down days was quickly removed from the table. What Angela Merkel and the Conference of Minister Presidents had decided proved impossible to implement. Merkel's prompt apology followed in the Bundestag, and the heads of the federal states joined in solidarity - after all, they were there, too. Since then, what materialized on Friday and took concrete shape over the weekend in the form of a draft law has been in the air: Merkel is targeting federal authority for tougher lockdown measures. No more laboriously negotiating with the state people and then watching everyone in the state capitals - at least that's the reading in the federal government - do what they want.
The implementation of the "emergency brake" in particular, i.e. the automatic implementation of measures above a certain incidence level, intended as a breakwater in the new pandemic phase, met with increasing criticism from federal politicians, especially from the CDU/CSU. When CDU leader Armin Laschet, minister president in North Rhine-Westphalia, also began to toe Merkel's line with his idea of a "bridge lockdown," people in the state and senate chancelleries knew what it would come down to: The federal government wants more power, the federal government wants to make a statement. And the federal government in this case is synonymous with Merkel. But even in the SPD leadership, there have apparently been efforts for several days to avoid falling behind here. Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) took up the matter and, together with parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich, looked for ways to incorporate some SPD demands - home office and mandatory testing in companies - into the bill. Whether and to what extent SPD minister presidents were privy to this is unclear, to say the least. And of course, the CSU also had a hand in it. The draft was also co-authored in the Federal Ministry of the Interior under Horst Seehofer. Knowing what was coming, CSU leader Markus Söder has long said that a uniform federal line would be acceptable.
When the President of the Bundestag, Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU), then signaled on Thursday evening that the project could pass through the Bundestag quickly - i.e. as an emergency law - the state premiers were able to plan the coming Monday differently. A new round with Merkel no longer made sense. The federal government and the Bundestag would now take the helm. The Bundesrat would then be on board. But the vehicle of the Minister Presidents' Conference will no longer be there for the time being. On Friday morning, the usual foursome sat down to make things final: Chancellor Merkel, Vice Chancellor Scholz, Söder, Berlin's Governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD) as head of the Conference of Minister Presidents. After that, the other state heads were informed. And what is to be decided now? What leaked out on Friday as a first draft amounts to a federal legal restriction and tightening of the "emergency brake". In practice, hard lockdowns will then be imposed locally if a seven-day incidence of 100 is exceeded.
To this end, a new paragraph 28b is to be inserted into the Infection Protection Act - 28a was already an additional paragraph that also expressly applies only to covid 19 control. From this threshold, it will then be mandatory to initiate a whole series of measures at the district level. Up to now, there has been a margin of discretion for both the states and the municipalities. It is unclear whether the catalog in the first draft will last until the end of the legislative process. But according to it, private gatherings will again be severely restricted to members of a household plus one person. There will also be a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. This is nothing new; locally, these have always been imposed; in Baden-Württemberg, for example, they applied statewide, but only above an incidence level of 150.
Public life must then be shut down again - recreational and cultural facilities close, as do restaurants and all businesses, with the usual exceptions for grocery stores, drugstores, pharmacies and gas stations. If it exceeds the 200 seven-day incidence mark, all schools and daycare centers must also be closed. Below the 100 mark, the current regulation set out in Paragraph 28a remains in place. According to this, initial "broad-based" protective measures must be implemented at the district level from an incidence value of 35, and "comprehensive" measures to reduce the number of infections from an incidence value of 50. Here, the states can act as before without further specification in the law - i.e. with discretionary powers.
Switching conference with Braun and the states on Sunday
The law should now be passed very quickly. But even an expedited procedure takes time. According to information from the Tagesspiegel, the plan is for the Federal Government and the Bundestag to begin the legislative process next week, so that it can be completed the following week. It would then be the Bundesrat's turn shortly thereafter. The aim is apparently for the law to be published in the Federal Law Gazette on April 19, or on April 26 at the latest.
The plan is justified not least by the fact that after the "Easter peace" debacle a signal of good federal-state cooperation to send outward. That's how Scholz put it on Friday, pointing out that it was a joint effort by the federal and state governments. Obviously, he does not want any major resistance actions even from SPD state premiers - he is pulling the card of the chancellor candidate. But of course it won't work entirely without the state premiers, even if they are now under strong pressure to agree. When the finished draft is sent out at the weekend after the departmental vote in the federal government, wishes may well still be expressed. A conference between Chancellor's Office Minister Helge Braun and the states is then planned for Sunday evening. And a new conference of minister presidents with Merkel has already been envisaged. It is to take place in April. The topic will then be the further vaccination campaign.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay