Rod Liddle

Forget the EU – we need the Hanseatic League

All southern European countries will be excluded from my new union

Forget the EU – we need the Hanseatic League
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I think it is time to put into effect my plan for the re-shaping of the European Union. A somewhat scaled-down European Union: Greece wouldn’t be in it, for a start. Nor Portugal or Spain or France or indeed Italy south of a line which I have just drawn on my Times Atlas of the World in felt-tip pen, stretching east north east from Genoa to Trieste. And even that northern bit of Italy (Venice in, Bologna definitely out) is there on a sort of probation — and on the understanding that they take their orders from the German-speakers in the new capital Bolzano (or Bozen, as it will become once more).

The European Parliament will be abolished and Brussels (or Brussel, henceforth) stripped of its EU capital status. My new EU would employ a staff of about 18 people in total, costing each member state perhaps £10,000 per year in contributions. They would reside in a pleasant suite of offices situated in the Holstentor — the beautiful 15th-century gate to the city of Lubeck, located in northern Germany, on the Baltic coast. There would be, in addition, representative offices in Groningen, King’s Lynn, Gdansk, Bergen and Novgorod, but these are little more than tourist information centres, in all honesty. This new confederation would consist of 22 or perhaps 24 countries — I have not yet made my mind up about Hungary and Luxembourg. It would be primarily a trading bloc, although there might be a joint military presence to patrol the borders and keep undesirables (i.e. southern Europeans and jihadi Maghrebian migrants) out.

I originally envisaged that it would operate under the somewhat cumbersome acronym AHWTPLAPOONEP – the Alliance of Hard-Working, Tax-Paying, Largely Agreeable Protestant or Orthodox Northern European Peoples. But thinking about it now, I do wonder if something a little pithier might not be better. Such as ‘Hanseatic League’. Incidentally, regarding Luxembourg: if these somewhat questionable people are allowed in, then it is on the condition that they have no representation whatsoever in the Lubeck head office. Bad enough when the tail wags the dog, worse still when a flea on the tail does the wagging, as happens too often with the EU. Meanwhile, the peremptorily defenestrated countries can form their own trading bloc — and they may prosper, because we in the north will all need sardines from time to time, and perhaps feta cheese. They could call themselves ALCPWSFEUFITDBNEHWP — the Alliance of Largely Catholic People Who Sleep From Eleven Until Five In The Daytime But Nonetheless Enjoy Huge Welfare Payments. I accept that this is also a cumbersome acronym. An angry and pro-‘Lega Nord’ friend of mine from Milan has suggested an alternative name for these southern redoubts: ‘Africa.’ But there may be copyright problems here.

The Marxist dictum that the base (economics) determines the superstructure (everything else) never really did it for me. It always occurred that the local culture determined the economy of a country rather than the other way about. I would point you to Malaysia for evidence of this; despite 50 years of ‘progressive’ (or ‘punitive’, if you are Chinese) legislation, it is still the Chinese who occupy the top places in the Forbes 100 list and have a far larger average income than the ethnic Malays. It is the cultural differences which account for this remarkable imbalance, in a country where the Chinese are institutionally discriminated against under the Bumiputra system. The Malays are afforded every economic advantage by the government, but still finish up bottom of the pile, financially. So it is, to an only slightly less obvious degree, with Europe. My objections to our membership of the EU, back in the 1990s, were not predicated upon the fear that we would lose sovereignty and be forever at the behest of the Germans, but that an ever closer economic alliance between north and south simply would not work for primarily cultural reasons. I would maintain that we in the north of Europe have less in common culturally, and thus economically, with Thessaloniki, Palermo and Seville than we do with Singapore or, for that matter, Vladivostok. My argument is not that our culture is better — in many ways it is joyless and grasping — simply that one cannot have an economic synthesis of nations which have very little culturally in common with one another. Back then, in the early Nineties, I advocated that instead of joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism, preparatory to joining a single European currency, we should bail out of the EU altogether and instead join Nafta. But I overlooked the fact that Nafta has Mexico to deal with. That doesn’t work, either. Although at least there are not Mexican Nafta elected members telling the US and Canada how to run their economies: the USA is at the behest of nobody. But I think my more recent idea of a Hanseatic League is better.

The Greeks should not have been invited into the European Union and, having been so invited, their arcane financial practices should not have been tolerated by the economically dominant north of the continent. I think it is fair to say that there was a cultural misunderstanding between the two sides, occasioned by the hubris of a bureaucracy which wished rapidly to extend itself and deliberately looked the other way as the Greeks singularly failed to bear gifts. And the only slightly less southern Portuguese and Italians and Spanish are looking on, thinking: hell, with your levels of debt, just imagine what we can get away with if we decide that we too have had enough of austerity. Of course, it is not called austerity in the north of Europe — north of Trieste the thing is known as prudence: you work hard, you get paid, you submit your taxes, you go back to work and do it all again. A Gradgrindish and grim existence to be sure, you Greeks. You never really wanted that, did you?