PLENTY of people have tried to use Christian imagery to portray or even explain the multiple strains suffered by the European Union and its monetary system. For example, Emmanuel Macron, France’s economy minister, once suggested that the Catholic (and Orthodox) belief in a sacrament of forgiveness helped to explain the happy-go-lucky attitude of the European south to profligacy and debt which the Protestant north found so exasperating. And Stuart Holland, a British Labour politician, is among several commentators who have found significance in the fact that the German word Schuldmeans both debt and guilt in the moral or religious sense.
A more playful deployment of Christian imagery has been proposed by one of the leading academic scholars of EU affairs, who happens to be Greek. After lecturing for many years at Oxford University and becoming a professor at the London School of Economics, Loukas Tsoukalis now lives in his homeland and runs a foreign-affairs think-tank, ELIAMEP. For his sins, or perhaps for his virtues, he has been an adviser to past presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.
In a book about the European crisis, entitled “In Defence of Europe” and published this summer, Mr Tsoukalis calls one chapter “The Priest, the Sinner and the Non-Believer”. The priest is Germany, the sinner is Greece, and the incorrigible free-thinker is Britain. The book went to press fractionally before the Brexit vote so the characterisation of Britain might now need to be sharpened up: the church’s most sceptical member is not merely shuffling in the pews or refusing to sing hymns, but actually heading for the ancient oak door, as behoves a full-blown apostate. One way or another, the sceptic’s departure will affect relations between the German priest and the Greek sinner; the priest will either become slightly more lenient (as Mr Tsoukalis predicts) or perhaps even stricter.