German Chancellor Angela Merkel is always good for a little variety whenever European leaders pose for their traditional group photo at summits. Sometimes she wears a blue blazer. At other times she is in beige. Sometimes the chancellor stands next to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, while at other times she positions herself next to Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.
But one thing has consistently been the same recently: Merkel stands in the middle. To some extent, the protocol reflects German national policy and the chancellor's favorite position, namely that the Germans should not be standing on the sidelines in Europe.
Merkel will position herself in the middle again at this week's summit of EU leaders in Brussels, but this time image and reality are hardly compatible. A deep divide runs through Europe, and Merkel is more isolated than ever within the circle of the EU's 27 heads of state and government.
The chancellor sees herself confronted with the charge that she has focused exclusively on national interests in the euro crisis. Last week, in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, Juncker of "un-European behavior" and "simplistic thinking."
The premier of the Grand Duchy is not alone in his criticism. Many European leaders resent Merkel for the fact that Germany has recently been less flexible and not as enthusiastic about the EU as it used to be. Germany's understandable desire to not become Europe's paymaster doesn't give it the right to be its taskmaster, say critics from Lisbon to Helsinki.
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To be lectured by Juncker on Europe will probably only add to Merkel´s popularity at home. Of course the Chancellor looks after her country´s national interests in the EU - like all the other EU leaders do. And it is most welcome that the leader of the most powerful EU country has began to speak more realistically about the Union.