Flushed with that success, she looked toward Germany’s EU presidency in the second half of 2020. There were big issues to tackle like the testy Brexit negotiations and the landmark recovery fund.

But Spahn kept active. In June, he forged a vaccine alliance with France, Italy and the Netherlands. The goal was to secure as many doses as possible, and on June 13, the group signed a preliminary contract with AstraZeneca for 400 million shots. What could have been good news raised alarm bells in Berlin and Brussels.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen asked the chancellery to stop Spahn’s alliance. Merkel’s former defense minister made it clear to the chancellor that Spahn’s effort could overshadow Germany’s EU presidency.

As a committed multilateralist, she didn’t want to be remembered saving Germans at the expense of the rest of the EU. Shortly thereafter, Spahn effectively apologized for the initiative.