Carnegie Europe asked me (and others) the question : Is Angela Merkel Europe’s Leader
My response below
In football terms, Angela Merkel is Europe’s back four. She stops goals being scored, but she does not know how to score them. She is Europe’s leader faute de mieux for three reasons.
First, no other country has offered leadership. France’s erratic former president Nicolas Sarkozy and weak incumbent François Hollande are not EU players in the way previous leaders François Mitterrand or Valéry Giscard d’Estaing were. The UK under former prime minister Gordon Brown and his successor, David Cameron, has been an EU outlier. Italy under Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, now with the largest bloc of center-left members of the European Parliament (31), may play a role, but the country remains so weak economically.
Second, thanks to the reforms enacted by the previous German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, which Merkel has lived off, Germany emerged as Europe’s only strong economy after 2008. This meant endless demands on German money, which pushed Merkel onto the defensive domestically. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl could sign any check to Europe. Merkel cannot.
Third, the rise of German post–Cold War neutralism means Merkel is not a strong U.S. ally and cannot be the No. 1 American partner on the continent in the way that past chancellors Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt, Helmut Schmidt, or Kohl were.
So Merkel can block but not initiate. Her crab-walk style suits a Germany that does not want to bother or be bothered by the outside world. She is the most powerful leader in the EU but has no idea where or how to lead Europe.