Bruno Le Maire, the French economy minister, told his Dutch counterpart Wopke Hoekstra he was “not comfortable” dealing with the so-called Hanseatic League. Paris believes the creation of a club within another club, the EU, could be harmful to the strength of the Union. He told the Financial Times: “Let’s imagine that France tries to create a club of the southern countries with Portugal, Italy, Spain.
“What would be the reaction of the other member states?
“Do you think that it would be a positive one?
“Do you think it would improve the situation of Europe?
“I am not comfortable with the idea of creating new circles, new clubs, new leagues within Europe.
“If you want to create new divisions between the north and the south, or the west and east, you will never have France on your side.”
The group, which first emerged in 2017, sees eight countries including Ireland and Baltic economies agreeing on the need of more national responsibility and stronger rules in the eurozone.
The Hanseatic League, taking the name from the famous group of northern states that dominated commercial activity in northern Europe from the 13th to the 15th century, is also opposing to some Franco-German initiatives, such as a blueprint of a eurozone budget.
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This year alone, the League issued three common position papers.
The one agreed in July urged EU governments to make progress on building a truly integrated financial market in Europe.
But rather than reinforcing the EU, this League is putting its survival at risk, according to Mr Le Maire.
He said: “I’m not sure the Hanseatic League would be in a position to face the competition with China and the US.
“If we are creating closed clubs, alliances within the EU then we run the risk of losing time and weakening our common project.”
However, diplomats from the countries member of the Hanseatic League say the club allows smaller countries to exercise their collective influence in Brussels.
And, they added, it is frowned upon by France because it has consolidating opposition to key policies supported by Paris, such as more common spending tools for the eurozone.