As Britain’s exit route, if there is one, at all, from the European Union becomes more and more entangled with domestic political rocks and potholes, the French plan solidify the remnants of the EU faces renewed and stiffening challenges from the so-called New Hanseatic League about which I wrote last month.
Now, I see in an article in the Financial Times, that “Over the past year, the Dutch have spearheaded an alliance with Ireland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to make common cause in an intensifying debate on the future of the eurozone — one of the biggest questions facing the post-Brexit EU … [but, just last week] … Dutch Finance Minister “Wopke Hoekstra’s visit to Paris last week ended with the Netherlands’ finance minister getting such a dressing down from his French counterpart Bruno Le Maire that it was labelled a “diplomatic incident” by one Dutch newspaper …[because] … The response captured an essential truth: the growing role that a Dutch-led alliance dubbed the “new Hanseatic League” is playing in European statecraft … [and] … Mr Le Maire, who waited until post-dinner coffee with Mr Hoekstra to deliver a 20-minute tirade against the Hanseatic “club”, railed at the alliance for threatening deeper eurozone integration and weakening the EU. Mr Hoekstra, whose visit to Paris was the last stop in a charm offensive that also included Berlin, denied that he was sowing divisions: the Hanseatic alliance, he said, was constructive, rather than uncompromising.“
One of the core problems for the EU is that it is, really, two or three “unions,” each with different aims and attitudes. There is, first, this New Hanseatic League which operates with tacit but necessary German backing, then there is what we might call the Roman League ~ France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and a few others, and the new Eastern League ~ Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and several others; they all have quite markedly different histories and political and socio-economic cultures and it is become less and less clear that they can work together.
The modern origins of the European come from the mid 1940s when people (mostly Frenchmen) like Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak and Robert Schuman looked back on a century of history and saw that European union was the only way to prevent yet another military calamity. Starting with the revolutionary movements of 1848 which led to the unification of, first, Italy and then Germany the balance of power in the world began to shift. France which, had, with British support, been the most important European power was, suddenly and visibly, after 1871, a second rate power. The French, in my opinion, actually started World War I by surrounding Germany by forming alliances with Russia, Italy and, eventually Britain. Germany saw that France’s aim was more than just containment, it was continental confinement and so they attacked in self defence. The outcomes ~ 1919, the rise of Mussolini, Hitler and Franco and World War II ~ are all too fresh in our minds, even today, they were the driving factors behind European unity in 1948. It can be argued that, paraphrasing what Field Marshal Lord (Pug) Ismay is reputed to have said about NATO, that European unity was intended to keep the French up, in a position which they could never hope to sustain on their own, and the Germans, down and docile, in a position which would allow them achieve much of their Mittel-European dream by peaceful means, without crippling France.
In any event that’s what it looks like in 2018 … but it’s incomplete because Germany is dominant and France knows it. President Marcon needs to reshape the Union so that France’s position is enhanced but the New Hanseatic League and, most likely the Eastern League are not inclined to accept French rule. Britain was a check on French ambitions; Brexit takes British moderation off the table and leaves it to the Germans and their Northern European allies to make a case for a different superstructure.
Now, I have rattled on, probably, too often, about how I think the EU should reform itself. It cannot have one master, which would, inevitably, be Germany, and two France and Germany, will not sit well with e.g. Italy, Poland and Spain, so it probably needs a reformed centre in which three main blocks, with quite porous boundaries, coexist: A Northern, German led bock, a Southern, Franco-Italian-Spanish block and an Eastern block. That will satisfy no one … which might just make it the better solution.