The Hanseatic League and the European Union

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  • Topic: European Union, European Economic Community, Treaty of Lisbon
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  • Published : May 21, 2011
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On 25 March 2017, the European Union will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its existence. Nevertheless, the European Council and the presidents of the twenty seven member states are aware that it is not a perfect union. The Hanseatic League is probably the oldest trace of city alliances in Europe that actually started as a merchant’s society in the Middle Ages. The main interest of this work is to analyse this trade alliance from three different points of view to outline the similarities and differences in contrast to the European Union. To figure out about the initially mentioned question it is planned to start with the economic point of view in the first part. The second part will deal with the political aspects whilst the third part finally will get into the social facets with respect to the Hanseatic League, also called “Hanse”. Therefore it is necessary to briefly define this merchants association to begin with. The Hanseatic League can be seen as a merchant league that spread “from England across Germany into the Baltic Sea and beyond” (McCarthy 2006, p 65), hence mainly the northern half of Europe. Their development is by virtue of the conditions in die Middle Ages: There were only some emerging nation states such as England and France (McCarthy 2006) whereas Germany consisted in small communities and principalities ruled by noblemen or other sovereigns. Continental trade had to face many obstacles back then, such as different local moneys, tariffs, and laws. Thus, the merchant league can be seen as one solution to standardize exchange and develop an international commercial law (McCarthy 2006). Though there has never been an official document that had to be signed by the members the “Hanseatic traders” became Hanseatic Cities later on, and built some kind of formal and international organisation (McCarthy 2006).

1 Economical Aspects

From “Hanse Traders” to Hanse Cities
As already mentioned, the Hanse was under the authority of merchants, who usually were from upper classes. They pursued common goals concerning business matters and worked together in joined groups. In the beginning its functioning was to provide protection and make trade safer in foreign countries through building alliances with other traders whereas the main motive of the European Union was an economic cooperation between all member states (Vlaskamp 2009) ever since the beginning. The representatives of the member states within the organisation of the European Union become legally elected. The membership is not related to a certain class. The common aims of the Hansa´s merchants were the standardisation of exchange modalities and the protection of the commercial privileges they gained due to the influence they had on the field of politics. The European Union´s aim was to ease the trade between the member countries by introducing common tariffs and rules for goods and services.

Important Accomplishments
However, they achieved the security of trade routes, introduced agents in the countries they worked with who were in charge of sale and purchase on the spot. This form of trading was an important commercial development. The different cities became centres of trade which ended the till then existing fair system. The merchants of the Hanse gained merchants’ rights and privileges, as mentioned before, and even received royal protection for some period of time. The Hanse Leagues organisation’s structure “left many opportunities for the local hansatowns and hansas to pursue their own strategies of economic integration” (McCarthy 2006, p 65). This economic integration was only realized by the hansatowns, their surrounding areas and their allies (McCarthy 2006). Thus the loss of the hanse character or attribute could have a great impact on a town. It could lose this character either by not using the privileges, by leaving it officially or by formal expulsion in the case of breaching the (trade) law. The latter developed...
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