From Chris Morris at the BBC
Was it the first EU?
Success also bred resentment and disputes with local traders, but it was an early example of pan-European co-operation. So to what extent can the Hanseatic League be seen as a forerunner of today’s European Union?
“People sometimes misuse the term and say the Hanseatic League promoted free trade. They absolutely did not. Their whole strategy was about creating monopolies and negotiating privileges,” says Tholstrup.“But on the other hand, I think they created a network and developed prosperity at a time when the Baltic was a pretty bleak place. So the transformation they helped to generate was the origin of the prosperity of northwestern Europe.”
The League certainly did intervene at times in politics, supporting monarchs, imposing trade boycotts, and fighting wars. But Alison Gowman insists the primary objective was always financial.“It was in order to keep their trade routes open. And, in that sense, it was about freedom to trade rather than free trade, and I think that is an important element of how the EU developed.”
What the League did not have, of course, was the kind of political and economic structures we now associate with the EU. But as the UK prepares for Brexit, could it provide a model for trading links in the years ahead?