Wolfgang Schauble Wiktor Dabkowski/ZumaPress
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Germany’s Power Problem

From think tanks and NGOs to media and business lobbying, Germans have become the EU’s foremost movers and shakers, and occupy its political institutions’ top posts. But, though indisputably the strongest and most dependable of the EU’s 28 member countries, Germany lacks a vision of where the beleaguered bloc should be heading.

BRUSSELS – It is a short tram ride from the massive building that houses the European Union’s Council of Ministers to the Brussels office of the German think tank Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP). On a recent morning, both provided equally revealing illustrations of Germany’s growing political clout in Europe.

The topic under discussion at the SWP was the re-elected British government’s planned “in-out” referendum on EU membership, and how to handle the run-up to it. At the same moment, an encounter was taking place at the Council of Ministers between German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and his British counterpart, George Osborne, who will be leading the “renegotiation” of his country’s relationship with the EU.

Germany’s approach to policymaking on European affairs is often somewhat schizophrenic, by turns brutal and subtle. Its tough, no-nonsense approach to the Greek debt crisis contrasts with its confusingly nuanced and even pacifist stance on foreign-policy and security issues, or its controversial abandonment of nuclear energy.