Being top of the class is not always easy. A founder member of the European Union and home to its largest population and most powerful economy, Germany sits at a crossroads between Northern, Southern, Western and Eastern Europe. In the current period of economic crisis and amid fears about the future of the euro, it has also become the main pillar of the EU, whose support is critical for every decision, and whose funds are essential to any effort to bail out weaker member states.
However, notwithstanding its pivotal role, the idea that Germany has a problem with the EU is increasingly gaining ground. Berlin has been criticised for a lack of solidarity towards countries in difficulty, its reluctance to take incisive action, and its desire to impose on other nations the austerity model that it has implemented with such apparent success.
One political figure in particular has become the focus for many of these reproaches: Chancellor Angela Merkel. Powerful but on occasion too mild-mannered, indecisive but inflexible, dominant but also constrained by a complex political system, she has now come to symbolise the Germany of today in Europe. And let’s not forget her occasionally troubled alliance with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, which has highlighted the insufficiencies of a relationship that is critical for Europe.
At a time when claims that Germany wants to dominate Europe are clearly informed by a vision of history that no longer holds sway, the articles gathered in this briefing explain why she is now the somewhat reticent leader of a Europe where idealism has been superseded by pragmatism.