European Union or U.S. of E?

In a different context yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, indulged in a bit cliche mongering, ""If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then what is it?" he asked his audience at AIPAC in connection with Iran's nuclear program.

You could ask the same questions about the European Union – just substitute the phrase "United States of Europe" for duck and you'll get my point.

Less than two working days after EU leaders signed a new fiscal compact limiting annual budget deficits to 3.5 percent of GDP. Individual states are already squawking.

Spain has legitimate reasons to back away from the pledge. As I noted here last week, Mariano Rajoy, a conservative, came to office in December with every intention of reducing the deficit to the 3.5 percent target. Then he saw the books. He has also doubtless seen the projections for rising unemployment.

So he decided he would cut the deficit to 4.4 percent instead, now, his economics minister is suggesting that given, the scale of Spain's economic contraction that figure is likely to rise – Rajoy won't say by how much – although the minister added that the target for reducing the structural deficit to 3.5 percent could be met.

Then the Dutch government came under pressure from the ever feisty, platinum-haired, populist Geert Wilders. His Dutch Freedom Party (why has the xenophobic right across the developed world been allowed to appropriate the word "Freedom?") commissioned a study from Lombard Research on what being in the euro means for the Netherlands. Not surprisingly the London-based eurosceptical Lombard decided it was a bad thing.

Wilders, and his party punch above their weight in the Dutch Parliament because no party has an absolute majority and the current government relies on Wilder's votes to get legislation passed.

These ructions have played big in British papers, and in more measured tones on the continent.

The key thing in all the stories is that nothing decisive has happened and this brings me to my point at the top.

An American watching this can wonder what's the big deal. We are used to the idea that the federal government makes decisions and then the states squawk and headlines get made and then – nothing much happens in the end.

Often in watching the EU from London you get the sense that it and its institutions are about to fall apart. Partially that is down to the propagandizing tendency in British reporting. You can get real facts from the most eurosceptic analysts but you have to wash them clean of the bias they come wrapped in.

But the EU is not about to fall apart, the euro will still be here (probably without Greece) for a while yet.

The reason is that without benefit of the usual historical processes: conquest or revolution or having your wealthiest businessmen sit in Constitutional congress in Philadelphia; the EU has come to function like a United States of Europe.

This is a social and cultural point I am making. People love it when it works for them, hate it when it doesn't. The heads of government compromise on legislation in a way that Barack Obama can only dream about. This inevitably leads to imperfect legislation that needs to be fixed. In the debt crisis, the leaders have shown themselves capable of making repairs to the imperfect euro.

You could even argue that the fiscal compact is the biggest unfunded mandate in the world.

Anyway, if it looks like the US of E and legislates like the US of E, perhaps it should be called, the US of E.

Or at least the Confederate States of Europe.

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