It is a crucial phase in Jens Spahn’s (CDU) political career. The Federal Minister of Health made a name for himself as a determined crisis manager during the corona pandemic and has thus become one of the most popular German politicians. Now, of all times, when the start of the vaccination campaign, the sharpest sword to fight the pandemic is in the hands of doctors and nurses, this image is cracking.
That’s why Spahn goes on the offensive. In the Bundestag he made a government statement on Wednesday to start vaccination in Germany. It is the first item on the agenda in the new year. The Minister steps up to the lectern wearing an FFP2 mask. “We have been in an exceptional situation for months,” says Spahn, first looking back at year one of the corona pandemic, for example when the German Armed Forces flew German citizens from Wuhan at the beginning of February 2020 and quarantined them in a barracks. “Hardly anyone could imagine what that means,” commented Spahn in the Bundestag.
From spring, the pandemic expanded into the greatest crisis of the post-war period. “It has never been so difficult to weigh up alternatives,” says Spahn, describing his own work, adding: “Whoever governs has to explain himself.”
The coalition partner also recently called for an explanation. Instigated by their candidate for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is finance minister with Spahn in the cabinet, the SPD-led federal states slapped the health minister with a list of questions about the start of vaccination. To this day it has not been answered. There are legitimate questions in this, but the fact that the SPD is presenting the coalition partner in this way was interpreted as an election campaign maneuver against the most popular minister of the CDU. Because even though it took Spahn’s ministry a long time last year to buy protective equipment or to develop a conclusive test strategy, this did not seem to damage its image. Only the vaccination issue sticks and seems to be pulling its popularity down. So the SPD maneuver was certainly precisely calculated. Finally, there is still a chance that Spahn will run as a candidate for chancellor against Scholz.
In the Bundestag, Spahn then vehemently defended that vaccine procurement had been approached on a European basis and received repeated applause for this. “Going the European route during the pandemic is in the German national interest,” said Spahn. Getting through this crisis together will strengthen Europe. Even in future crises, the countries of Eastern and Southern Europe should look to Brussels for help and not to Beijing or Moscow.
Spahn hides the sharpest point of criticism
The fiery appeal for the European way is not without irony. After all, it is rumored in the government district that first Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) had to convince Spahn emphatically about the common European approach.
So did Spahn do everything right? “Not every decision in the past few months has been right,” he said. “We learn from this.” Of course, it jerks in the biggest vaccination campaign in history.
With the sharpest accusation that Spahn had turned down an early option to 200 million more doses of the Biontech vaccine, Spahn replied: The reason for the shortage of the vaccine is the lack of production capacity, not the order quantity. Spahn does not mention that the company might have built up production capacities faster with a larger order.
Instead, the minister tried to inspire confidence at the end of his speech. “We can probably make every German a vaccination offer in the summer.” A promise that he will have to be measured by in a few months.
Regarding the ongoing lockdown and the restrictions, he said: “This is bitter medicine.” But now we have to go through it together. After much terrible news in the past year, there will also be good news in 2021. He has a clear goal in mind for this year: “To regain our health security and our social freedom.”
FDP boss Lindner: “Logistics and speed are shameful”
After Spahn, the AfD member Sebastian Munzenmaier spoke first. He criticized the lockdown policy and called for greater protection for risk groups. Amira Mohamed Ali, parliamentary group leader of the Left, said: “There is chaos in the allocation of vaccination appointments.” She expects the minister not to hide behind the responsible federal states, but to find a solution together. FDP leader Christian Lindner complained about the poor preparation of the vaccine. “The logistics and speed are embarrassing,” he says.
The SPD held back with further criticism against Spahn. Group vice-chairman Bärbel Bas said the SPD’s list of questions to the minister was “not an election campaign noise”, but a constructive proposal to improve and accelerate procedures and processes. Then you could have clarified that internally, some might think.
What’s next for Spahn? The main decision will be whether the number of 750,000 people vaccinated to date will be quickly added in the coming weeks and the problems with appointments and delivery will be eliminated. If so, then the bumpy vaccination start could only have been a small damper for the minister. If not, Spahn’s star threatens to decline on the straight line of the pandemic.