The Corner

After Britain Departs

It’s hard to find adjectives angry enough to describe the mess currently being made of Brexit, so, under the circumstances, it’s something of a break, albeit a bleak one, to take a step back and consider what the EU will look like once the U.K. has gone. The news isn’t good. One way or another, Britain has (since its appalling failure to veto the Maastricht Treaty) generally—the Blair/Brown years were a partial exception— acted as a something of a restraining influence on the trudge to ‘ever closer union’.

But with Britain departing, those trying to push integration forward are making the most of their new opportunity. Thus talk of an ‘EU army’ (admittedly a flexible concept) has revived. More broadly, with London out of the way, countries that step out of a line set, primarily, in Paris, Berlin and Brussels are being bullied even more nastily than in the past. Much of this has involved the usual miscreants—Poland and Hungary—and the fight over Italy’s finances looks likely to become even more poisonous, but then there was this (via the Financial Times):

France’s economy minister has hit out at an alliance of smaller northern European economies that has been dubbed the new Hanseatic League, saying Paris opposed “closed clubs” that risked dividing the EU.

Speaking at a dinner with his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra in Paris on Thursday, Bruno Le Maire said he was “not comfortable” dealing with the Hanseatic group — eight to 10 countries that have agreed common positions calling for more national responsibility and stronger rules in the eurozone…

The Hanseatic group — a reference to Europe’s medieval confederation of trading cities — also includes Ireland and Nordic and Baltic economies [Note to the Financial Times: The Estonian cities of Tallinn (Reval) and Tartu (Dorpat) as well as Riga in Latvia, were in the original Hanseatic League]. It has issued three common position papers this year, while an expanded group of 10 signatories — including non-eurozone countries such as Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic — called for stronger powers to monitor EU government finances.

When asked whether the Franco-German alliance was not a “club”, Mr Le Maire said: “That is totally different. This is not a club. This is what is at the core of the European ambition: peace between France and Germany. This is at the core of the European Union.”

Translation: Some countries are more equal than others.

Prediction: Expect much more of this.

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