German government votes to expand emergency coronavirus powers

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After a close vote, the German Bundestag extended the government’s emergency pandemic powers for another three months, until the end of November.

German government retains emergency powers until November

Emergency pandemic powers – which recognize an “epidemic situation of national importance” and thus allow the government to bypass parliamentary controls to implement exceptional measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic, such as making the mandatory masks or forcing the closure of businesses – have been in place since March 2020.

They were originally scheduled to expire in late August, but after a close vote Wednesday that saw the government go through an extension of 325 votes to 253, emergency powers will remain in place until the end of November.

“The pandemic is unfortunately still not over,” Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said, defending the extension. He said federal states and local authorities still need a legal basis for measures such as requiring masks to be worn on public transport, while there are still such a large number of people not vaccinated. With the highly contagious Delta variant spreading rapidly in Germany, Spahn said the goal remains to avoid overloading the healthcare system in the fall.

Opposition parties criticize unchecked government powers

The extension drew sharp criticism from some, however, with all opposition parties in the Bundestag voting against. They argued that the high vaccination rate has calmed the situation in Germany and power should now be returned to parliament.

FDP health expert Christine Aschenburg-Dugnus warned of an “automatic and undifferentiated continuation of fundamental rights encroachment,” while the Greens’ Manuala Rotterman argued that emergency laws gave to Spahn the unprecedented power to waste billions of euros of public money. The Minister of Health has already been criticized for paying inflated prices for masks and other protective equipment.

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