Political bloodbath behind closed doors in Germany as tempers fray over vaccine fiasco

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Justin Huggler
·4 min read
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Mandatory Credit: Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (11744078d) European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides speaks during a press conference on Europe's Beating Cancer Plan at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 03 February 2021. Europe's Beating Cancer Plan press conference in Brussels, Belgium - 03 Feb 2021 - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Mandatory Credit: Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock (11744078d) European Union Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides speaks during a press conference on Europe's Beating Cancer Plan at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 03 February 2021. Europe's Beating Cancer Plan press conference in Brussels, Belgium - 03 Feb 2021 - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The political fall-out in Germany from the European Union vaccine debacle appears to be more serious than previously thought, as details of explosive rows emerge.

Olaf Scholz, the finance minister and a pivotal figure in Angela Merkel’s coalition, reportedly lost his temper at a cabinet meeting this week, launching an expletive-laden rant against Ursula von der Leyen and the European Commission until Mrs Merkel stepped in to stop him.

Other senior ministers have been frantically briefing in an attempt to escape any blame for a fiasco that has left Germany, the country where the first Western vaccine was developed, facing shortages.

Mrs von der Leyen is fast running out of friends in Berlin. According to local media reports, she has been lobbying party colleagues in Mrs Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) for public support, but she is now seen as so toxic no one in German politics wants to be associated with her.

German politics has also fastened on another fall guy in the form of Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner who was in charge of vaccine orders. Bild, Germany’s highest-selling newspaper, on Thursday published a picture of Ms Kyriakides unwisely posted on her Instagram account in September showing her feet up on a balcony with the caption: “Enjoying a moment at the end of busy week”.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CFARaRNHH5D/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link

At that point, the newspaper noted, the EU had failed to agree any vaccine orders with Pfizer or Moderna. The only order Ms Kyriakides had sealed was the ill-fated deal with AstraZeneca, which was to cause alarm when the company announced it could not meet the anticipated quantities.

German cabinet meetings are usually dry affairs, but according to accounts leaked to the German media this week’s was rather more colourful. Mr Scholz, a man generally so emotionless he is mocked in his native Hamburg as “the Scholzomat”, exploded with rage, allegedly telling cabinet colleagues the EU’s failure to order enough vaccine was “complete s--t”.

In a sign of growing divisions within Mrs Merkel’s coalition, he also is said to have turned on cabinet colleagues over Germany’s slow and chaotic vaccine roll-out, saying: “The s--t is repeating itself”.

But he reserved his greatest anger for Mrs von der Leyen, reportedly telling colleagues her refusal to apologise and attempts to duck the blame were “the next mess waiting to happen”.

German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attends an online news conference on the reorganisation of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, Bafin, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Germany's finance minister has unveiled plans to strengthen the country's financial supervisory authority following the accounting scandal at payment systems provider Wirecard. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP) - Kay Nietfeld/DPA
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz attends an online news conference on the reorganisation of the Federal Financial Supervisory Authority, Bafin, in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. Germany's finance minister has unveiled plans to strengthen the country's financial supervisory authority following the accounting scandal at payment systems provider Wirecard. (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP) - Kay Nietfeld/DPA

It was at this point that Mrs Merkel intervened. The German chancellor appears to be the last defender Mrs von der Leyen has left in Berlin — and that is probably because the European commission president is her woman in Brussels.

Mr Scholz’s reported outburst may have something to do with September’s looming German elections — he is the centre-Left Social Democrats’ (SPD) candidate for chancellor.

If so, he is not the only one on manoeuvres. Someone close to Jens Spahn, the health minister, has been busy briefing the German press that none of this is Mr Spahn’s fault.

An unnamed source told Bild Mr Spahn warned Mrs Merkel that Ms Kyriakides wasn’t up to the job as long ago as last summer, and that Mrs Merkel took the warning seriously enough to call Mrs von der Leyen and ask her to intervene.

Senior executives at the pharmaceutical companies didn’t take Ms Kyriakides seriously enough to take her calls, the source claimed.

All the signs are that a very German political bloodbath is under way — one conducted behind closed doors. Mrs Merkel’s government won’t fall, and that chances are there will be no sackings or resignations. But behind the scenes, careers will be made and broken.