On December 4, the Governing Council of the European Central Bank’s monthly meeting left financial markets feeling frustrated. Instead of announcing the beginning of a highly anticipated bond-buying program known as quantitative easing, the European Central Bank, or ECB, only slightly changed the vocabulary it used to describe its plans: “We expect” became “we intend.”
The majority vote on December 4 by the ECB was its latest rebellion against Germany’s attempts to shape the Continent. Students of history noted that the seeds for disagreement were sown in the thirteenth century. That is when a group of states came together to create a trading federation centered on the northern cities of Lübeck and Hamburg. This federation, which gradually expanded to cities on the coasts of what is today Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Sweden and the Netherlands, came to be known as the Hanseatic League.
The league dominated the North and Baltic seas in a manner reminiscent of the Romans in the Mediterranean a millennium before, but Hanseatic power was very much based on trade rather than force. The league’s gigantic ships brought raw materials, including timber and grain, from its eastern members to ports in England and carried shipments of cloth and manufactured wool to Novgorod, Russia, on return voyages.
The three central bankers who chose to vote with Germany were from Estonia, Latvia and the Netherlands, the only other three members of the old Hanseatic League currently in the eurozone.
It seems the league has lasted longer than anyone realized.
Source: Mark Fleming-Williams in the Geopolitical Weekly, December 9