The authoritarian fortress in the heart of Europe
The fourth wave is receding and Europe, in small steps, seems to be starting to get rid of restrictions. United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark and Spain have already returned to normal, Malta and Switzerland seem to be on the same path, while Austria, the strictest country par excellence, seems to be oriented to begin to relax the measures. However, at least for the moment, the citadel of closures and vaccination pass, the triangle Italy-France-Germany remains adamant.
Despite the fact that contagions are now slowing down all over Europe, the stronghold of the three most populous countries of the European Union seems, at least for the moment, to want to continue on the authoritarian slope that has characterized the last months, and until the three engines of the Union (representing, together, 47% of the population and 62% of the GDP of the EU) do not change course, a paradigm shift within the European institutions themselves will be difficult. However, it is likely, in this sense, that once one of these three countries begins to loosen the grip of restrictions under the weight of the numbers (both pandemic and economic), the other two will not be able to resist for too long.
Germany is the weakest link of the rigorists
In both Italy and France, support for vaccine restrictions and pass is still in the majority, albeit in decline, while this is not the case in Germany. For a convergence of historical and political reasons, Germany is the weakest link in the European neo-authoritarian triad. The heterogeneity of the governing coalition, which brings together Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals, and the federal order of the republic make it complex to maintain restrictions for a long period. To this must be added the fact that eighty years of denazification have instilled, in a large segment of the population, a very radical conception of the rights of the person, contrasting it with the Weltanschauung of communitarian and dirigiste matrix typically German, which has its roots in the political thought of Luther and Hegel. Precisely because of its turbulent past, Germany has more antibodies against authoritarianism than Italy and France, where the national passion for the strong man has never been a secret.
At the end of the current month, Germany is still the country, among the three under examination, with the lowest rate of complete vaccinations: 73.8% of the population, while France reaches 76.2% and Italy 77.3%. Especially in the Länder of the East, the vaccination campaign is lagging behind: the unvaccinated represent 30.9% of the population in Thuringia, 31.6% in Brandenburg and 35.7% in Saxony, but in most of the country, even in the West, including the capital Berlin, more than one German out of four is not vaccinated. The situation, already very similar in the last months of Merkel's chancellorship, has not changed significantly since the advent of Scholz and the Ampelkoalition. Despite the introduction of a very strict green pass regime equivalent to our "reinforced" one, in force for months now with regard to stores that are not essential, the campaign has essentially ground to a halt. Contributing to this result, in addition to the passive resistance of the population, were court rulings in a number of Länder, which essentially blocked the enhanced green pass for stores in Lower Saxony, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saarland, thus exempting over 40% of the German population.
Locked in a jungle of restrictions and prohibitions that are increasingly reminiscent of those of the late DDR, a large part of the population is beginning to show signs of impatience. A recent YouGov survey released by the newspaper "Die Zeit" showed that for 62% of the population the use of the vaccination pass has proved divisive, while for eight out of ten Germans society is now excessively polarized between vaccinated and non-vaccinated. Words that strongly contradict the narrative of Chancellor Scholz who, in his New Year's speech, spoke of a "united country".
The Scholz government struggles
In the face of this impasse, the German government is trying to reach a vaccination requirement, at least for the older population, even though the declared objective remains the compulsory vaccination of all adults. The measure, with an authoritarian flavor, promises to be unpopular, so much so that none of the three parties in the government coalition has taken it upon themselves to draft a bill. Scholz has been left with no choice but to strongly recommend that parliament find the broadest possible agreement to achieve compulsory vaccination, trying to shift the burden of such a decision to the whole chamber (with the exception of AfD) rather than to the government alone. The attempt to cloak such a measure behind an emergency logic of concord and national unity is evident (Draghi has set the standard), but negotiations with CDU, CSU and Linke are expected to be long and difficult, while the pandemic tide is now in full ebb. Even if the government were to succeed in getting such a law enacted, it would most likely come when time's up.
In the meantime, the polls do not seem encouraging: the liberals of the FDP, who have always taken an openist stance, are experiencing a sharp drop in popularity and, according to YouGov, have already lost three points compared to the previous elections (dropping from 11.5% to 8%). It does not pay, in particular, the retreat to the authoritarian positions of the Health Minister, the Social Democrat Karl Lauterbach, who in his last speech to the Bundestag also spent time praising the figure of Hegel, not exactly music to the ears of the Liberal Party. The government, as a whole, is not navigating in better waters and the patience of the Germans now seems close to the breaking point: according to a recent survey published in the daily newspaper "Die Welt" over 45% of Germans declare themselves dissatisfied with the government while only 33% say they are satisfied with how Scholz and his team are working. A disappointing result if one considers that the coalition has been in office for less than two months.
The next electoral appointments
In view of a year full of important regional electoral competitions in the federal states of Saarland, Schleswig-Holstein, North Rhine-Westphalia and Lower Saxony (more than 25 million voters called to the polls) the prospects are not good for Scholz. Add to this inflation (the real bogeyman of Germanic public opinion) and tensions with Russia, and it will become clear how sustainable can be the maintenance of an authoritarian attitude regarding vaccination restrictions and passes. Even if the pandemic has shown us to be able to invalidate the most predictable forecasts, there are still good reasons to consider Germany the weakest link of the neo-authoritarian triad. If it will be actually the Nibelung ring to break first, we will verify it only in the next months.
Research fellow at the Machiavelli Center. A philosophy scholar, he has been working for years on the topic of the revaluation of nihilism and the great German Romantic philosophy.
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