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OPINION: Germany will have to endure Covid for a while longer, but at least Merkel is going

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It’s another typically grey Hamburg afternoon and I’m sitting at my desk eyeing up my postal vote for the upcoming Bundestagswahl. In recent years, I’ve often dropped my ballot off at the electoral services offices several weeks before polling day. After all, I was always pretty sure of who I wanted to vote for, if not necessarily always sure of precisely how to do that (anyone who thinks Erststimme/Zweitstimme (first and second vote) is complicated should give the five-vote system for the Hamburg local elections a try…). This time round, though, I’m hesitating.

It would appear that I’m not alone. As pollsters, pundits, and publicans (those much underestimated societal barometers) confirm, the mood in Germany this summer has been characterised by a strange blend of stasis and volatility. The stasis can be summed up in two words: Merkel and Corona. Both have been around seemingly forever – and it feels difficult to imagine either ever going away. The volatility comes from the complete uncertainty about what will come after them (and when “after” will be).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When exactly will Merkel leave office?

Let’s start with Merkel. She had been in office for little over six weeks when I first moved to Hamburg in early 2006. My entire life in Germany to date has taken place under a Merkel chancellorship, as has that of anyone currently turning 16 or younger. Through this feat alone, she has become beloved of many Germans, who of course like nothing more than weighty stability, both in their cars (Mercedes, BMW) and their Chancellors (think Kohl).

In fact, Germans are such suckers for stability that they voted Merkel even after her core campaign message became nothing more ambitious than “Sie kennen mich ja”. This translates as “Well, you know me”, but might be rendered facetiously as “Better the devil you know”.

It’s a paradox we’ve all come to know. Germans dislike almost everything about Merkel’s policies (or lack of them), but have proved unwilling to trust anyone else with the levers of power.

Literally everyone in Germany I know is deeply dissatisfied with something: people who vote for Merkel’s CDU often think they’re too soft on migrants and complain that they haven’t done enough to keep the Autobahn network in shape; people who don’t vote for the CDU are perplexed that it still refuses to recognise that Germany has always run on immigration and think the millions spent on re-tarmacking motorways might be put to better use on crumbling schools and understaffed hospitals.

Chancellor Angela Merkel with conservative chancellor candidate Armin Laschet. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Michael Kappeler

If you detect some frustration in me personally here, you’re right: on most issues in public life, from immigration to public investment, the debate has barely moved on since I arrived. Ich kann es nicht mehr hören (I can’t listen to it anymore). The fact that Merkel only really scraped back in in 2017, having lost eight percent vote share (no, most people don’t remember that bit, either), suggests that I may not be as alone as I sometimes feel here.

In any case, I for one am absolutely delighted that Merkel has chosen to release us from this 16-year-limbo.

I know the prospect of her retiring worries some people – not just in Germany, but elsewhere – because “compared to Trump, Johnson et al, she stands for a different style of doing politics”, as the argument goes. That’s certainly true, but declaring her to be the best leader a western democracy in the early twenty-first century could ever have by comparing her to populism’s most mendacious sociopaths betrays, in my view, a worrying lack of ambition. Compare her to a leader with plausible hair and a political programme – like Emmanuel Macron, for instance, or Sanna Marin – and she looks like a tired hack with very little to say for herself.

This spring, even the most dyed-in-the-wall Merkel apologists couldn’t overlook just how much damage an utter lack of convictions can wreak. After going in front of the cameras in March 2020 to do what a chancellor has to do (“It is serious; take it seriously”), Merkel retreated behind a webcam for the rest of the pandemic, sniping at the various state leaders when they didn’t agree with her on coronavirus restrictions and going borderline unconstitutional at several points along the way.

READ ALSO: An era ends – how will Germany and the world remember the Merkel years?

Germany stuck in a Merkel – and Covid rut

Which brings us on to the second cause of the odd feeling of stasis: Corona. Just like with Chancellors, Germans don’t like taking risks with illnesses, either. We have always been a nation of hypochondriacs, and in days gone by, this was advantageous: doctors take ailments seriously and routinely run diagnostics people in other countries have to fight tooth and nail (or be privately insured) for. Yet the virus has brought out the worst in us.

As a country, we are terrified of the virus to the point that we still put on masks to walk three feet to the toilet in a restaurant, but are equally scared of the 1-in-100,000 chance of getting ill with the available vaccines. It’s a bad case of: “Wasch mich, aber mach mich nicht naß!” (wash me but don’t get me wet – similar to ‘having your cake and eating it’) Either way, Germany is doomed to suffer a bad autumn and winter in which we bear higher rates of illness than we would like with less freedom than we would want.

People waiting for a jab at Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie on September 3rd. Is Germany ready for political change? Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Ulrich Perrey

Nothing, however – not Merkel, not Corona – lasts forever, even though Germans love nothing more than a protracted status quo.

But there you go: that’s the Germany I fell in love with enough to become German back in 2015 (yes, before it was cool/necessary for Brits to do so). And because of that, I at least get to register my discontent at the ballot box in just a couple of weeks’ time. Habitually, I vote Green; in locals, I’ve even gone as far as Die Linke (voting SPD in Hamburg is just like voting CDU). Yet something tells me we might need the FDP in government this time round before they start making us check into our own flats with the cursed LUCA app. Then again, I dislike much of their manifesto and personnel … Tough one. 

So I resort to the Wahl-o-mat. As it turns out, I should be voting for DIE PARTEI. Now, that seems to be taking my instinct to break out of endless Grand Coalitions a little too far. Even back in the UK, I never voted Monster Raving Loony. What is more: the less clear the result, the longer Merkel will have to stay on as caretaker until a government is formed. And so my hesitation continues.



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What changes about life in Italy in October 2021?

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Some of these changes are confirmed, others still speculative, but each of the following may have an impact on your life in Italy soon. 

Here’s what we can expect in the coming weeks.

Oct 1st: Electricity and gas prices rise

The Italian government has stepped in to limit a steep rise in energy prices in the next quarter, after a 40 percent increase was predicted.

While this means bills won’t rise quite so sharply for Italian businesses and families, energy costs are still set to rise.

Electricity prices are expected to increase by up to 20 percent for those who do not fall into the lowest income brackets, according to Italian media reports, while a smaller rise is expected for gas bills.

READ ALSO: Italy to spend €3bn on keeping household energy bills down as prices soar across Europe

The precise figures won’t be known until the tariff for the upcoming quarter is published by Italy’s energy regulatory authority Arera, by the end of September.

The government’s measures will keep additional costs at zero for those least well-off, including households with an income under 8,265 euros, families with at least 4 dependent children with an income of less than 20,000 euros, those who receive a state pension or unemployment benefit, and people who are seriously ill, Sky TG24 reports.

The government funds will also cut the ‘general charge’ from gas bills for all throughout the last quarter of 2021, and on electricity for families and some small businesses.

Oct 1st: Italy-UK travel rule changes

People planning to travel to the UK from Italy or elsewhere in Europe from this month should note some changes to the entry rules.

From October 1st, due to a Brexit-related rule change the vast majority of EU citizens can no longer travel into the UK using an ID card; only passports are acceptable. Full details HERE.

As for Covid-related restrictions, vaccinated travellers from Europe will no longer have to take pre-departure tests when heading to England from Monday, October 4th.

Photo: Andreas SOLARO/AFP

New Covid restrictions – and a vaccine mandate?

In the coming days, the Italian government is expected to release details of its next decree updating Covid-related rules and restrictions within the country. 

Travel rules will not be included in this update – the next review of restrictions on most non-EU countries will come on October 25th (see below).

It looks likely that the maximum allowed capacity at stadiums, cinemas and theatres will increase after the government’s scientific advisory panel gave the all-clear to plans on Wednesday,

Stadiums will be able to sell tickets up to 75% of their full capacity, compared to 50% at the moment, while cinemas and theatres will be allowed to go up to 80%, according to news agency Ansa.

There will be no capacity restrictions for museums, although they will be obliged to make sure social distancing is respected.

All venues will only be allowed to admit customers with the green pass.

The Italian government is also considering whether to make vaccinations mandatory for more groups if it decides the rate of vaccination in the country is too low, and says it will make a decision by the beginning of October.

Vaccination coverage is one of the key factors the health ministry will take into account when deciding on any upcoming changes to the coronavirus restrictions.

Italy is tantalisingly close to reaching the government’s stated target of having 80 percent of the population fully immunised by September 30th – with some regions doing better than others.

Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Oct 15th: Green pass requirement at all workplaces

This is the most important change to be aware of this month if you work in Italy.

From October 15th, the next extension of Italy’s green pass scheme will require all employees across the public and private sectors to show that they are vaccinated, recovered or have proof of a recent negative coronavirus test uding the country’s green pass health certificate.

Unvaccinated workers without medical exemptions will need to take regular tests at their own expense unless their workplace decides to provide them for free.

Employees who fail to produce a pass face penalties of between €600 and €1,500, and salaries can be frozen from the first day that they arrive at work without the certificate. Employers are subject to fines of between €400 and €1,000 for failing to uphold the rules.

Find more details about how the rules will work in practice here.

Oct 15th. Some people are allowed to switch their heating on

You read that right. Italy has restrictions on when (and how much) you’re allowed to heat your home, and the first places to be allowed to crank up the thermostat are northern and mountainous parts of the country, starting from mid-October.

Italy is divided into several categories depending on when authorities think it’s appropriate to turn the heating on in each area.

Those in the balmier coastal areas in places like Sicily and Calabria are last to be permitted to flick the switch on December 1st. Find out when you can turn your heating on here.

Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP

Oct 15th: New national airline ITA takes off

This is also the date that Italy’s new flag carrier ITA, replacing long-struggling Alitalia, will begin operating and selling tickets.

Alitalia will cease operating on October 14th and the company has confirmed that customers with bookings after that date can rebook or get a refund.

Oct 25th: Italy to review rules on travel from the US and Canada

Towards the end of the month, we’ll be keeping an eye on possible changes to the Covid-related rules on travel from ‘D-list’ countries including the US and Canada, with Italy’s current set of rules for arrivals from these countries in force until October 25th.

Oct 31st: Don’t forget to change your clocks

At 3am on Sunday, October 31st, the clocks will go back by one hour marking the end of summer time.



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IRFU must shoulder some blame for state of women’s rugby in Ireland

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Watching the distressed female Irish players trying to console each other after Saturday’s heartbreaking, last-ditch defeat by Scotland in Parma which wrenched World Cup qualification aspirations from their grasp made for a very uncomfortable, almost invasive, watch. It was a relief when the RTÉ cameras panned back to the studio.

Watching Sene Naoupu embracing a tearful Ciara Griffin, it’s a wonder that Naoupu had kept her own emotions under control. Representing Ireland at a World Cup in her native New Zealand would have been such a fitting finale to her stellar career.

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Q&A: Can foreigners become civil servants in Spain?

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For many Spaniards, landing a stable, paper-pushing civil servant position is the dream.

They know it’s not going to be exciting or to make them rich but they see funcionario work as ‘a job for life’ in a country where the unemployment level is notoriously high and much of the job market is based on temporary summer positions in tourism.

They also like the fact that civil servant jobs pay a decent salary compared with the national average and often work fewer hours too.

Funcionario positions in Public Administration, Social Security and Defense were paid an average of €29,580 gross per year in 2020.

This is higher than the national average gross salary of €24,395 per year, according to stats released by Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE), although that’s not to say some civil servants get paid considerably less than the above mentioned salary.  

So, if jobs in the civil service are so popular then how can you get one as a foreigner?

Can foreigners in Spain get civil service jobs?

The main answer is yes, you can get a job in the civil service in Spain as a foreigner, however, there are a few requirements.

Those eligible for civil servant jobs in Spain include EU nationals and those who are married to Spanish or EU nationals. You must currently be married and not divorced.

Children of EU nationals who are eligible to work in Spain (over 16 years old) and who are under 21 can also apply, as can those who are over 21 but who are financially dependent on their parents.

Third-country nationals with work and residence permits in Spain may also apply for civil service jobs.

READ ALSO: How can non-EU nationals bring family members to live in Spain?

Does this apply to all jobs in the civil service?  

No, the only jobs that foreigners can’t apply for and that you must have Spanish nationality for are those which “directly or indirectly imply participation in the exercise of public power or in the safeguarding of the general interests of the State and Public Administrations” according to the Spanish government.

What qualifications do I need?  

While some civil service jobs in Spain require a university degree, there are several that don’t.

Whatever types of qualifications you have, however, will have to go through the homologación (recognition) process so that it’s validated and accepted in Spain. Keep in mind that this can take months, and for non-EU qualification holders even longer.

You may also be required to show other proof and certificates.

According to the Spanish government: “This requirement will not apply to applicants who have obtained recognition of their professional qualification in the field of regulated professions, under the provisions of Community law”.

It also goes without saying that you will need a high level of Spanish to get a job as a civil servant and you may need certificates to prove this too. If you’re trying to get a job in Catalonia for example, you may also be required to know Catalan, as well as Spanish. 

What are oposiciones?

Oposiciones are the entrance exams you’ll need to sit to become a civil servant in Spain. Each type of position will have its own requirements, some easier and some harder, which involve a series of exams to test your abilities and suitability.

Some positions may require practical exams, while others such as for the police force will require a physical test. 

READ ALSO – Not just English teaching: The jobs you can do in Spain without speaking Spanish

Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Is there anything that will prevent me from getting a civil servant job in Spain?

Yes, foreigners should not have received disciplinary action or been fired from similar roles in public service in their own countries.

Also, those who are applying for jobs where they will be in contact with children may have to show a police check from their home country to prove that their record is clean.

READ ALSO: What are the types of work contracts in Spain and which one is the best?

What are the advantages of being a civil servant in Spain?

  • A decent salary
  • You have the right to take holiday days in addition to personal days off
  • Your social security is automatically deducted, giving you healthcare and pension rights
  • It’s a stable job that you are less likely to be made redundant from
  • You have the possibility of transferring to different departments

READ ALSO: The downsides of moving to Spain for work

What are the disadvantages of being a civil servant in Spain?

  • It’s a big investment in time and effort to get a job as a civil servant
  • The need for qualifications, extra tests, and exams
  • The extensive number of requirements and paperwork that needs to be filled out
  • Complicated systems as well as old-fashioned and bureaucratic work models
  • Monotonous work, where you’re unlikely to face new challenges
  • Little to no opportunities for remote employment



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