Last week's EU show was pathetic. It made me throw a pack of gummy bears at my television screen. You'd think these European leaders were actually in a position to save others when they can't even save themselves as their own countries drown in debt.
As every trained water rescuer knows, when faced with a thrashing, flailing potential drowning victim who's trying to pull you under water as you attempt to save his life, you don't let him grab hold of you. Instead, you push him away and assume the defensive "reverse-and-ready" position until you can safely approach him from under water, lift him up and swim both of you to safety. So why was German Chancellor Angela Merkel clinging to French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a kissy-kissy death-clutch, both sinking like stones? Reverse and ready, Angie! Now you both risk credit downgrades, according to Standard & Poor's. Way to go.
Only British Prime Minister David Cameron had the good sense to stay ashore, assess his own debt-swimming skills as most likely poor, and save himself by walking away. Ten of the 27 EU countries have decided to wait on grabbing onto this sinking mess, saying they'll think about it first.
Here's the big new way the EU plans to save itself, according to its new statement: "General government budgets shall be balanced or in surplus; this principle shall be deemed respected if, as a rule, the annual structural deficit does not exceed 0.5 percent of nominal GDP."
Right. And I want to be the queen of England. Good luck with that.
Also: "As soon as a Member State is recognized to be in breach of the 3 percent ceiling by the Commission, there will be automatic consequences unless a qualified majority of euro area Member States is opposed. Steps and sanctions proposed or recommended by the Commission will be adopted unless a qualified majority of the euro area Member States is opposed."
Hear that? The wrath of Europe will rain down on non-compliers! With bureaucracy and paperwork! Unless, of course, the EU doesn't feel like it (insert Gallic shrug here). It seems like the EU is trying to adopt the same kind of balanced-budget requirements that exist in America for individual states -- it's basically an honor system, because no penalties are imposed for failure to comply. The real penalty comes in the form of voters rejecting the offending state leader. Not so in Europe, however, where deficits are a way of life and a source of much shrugging and cute giggling like teenagers on a rampage with Mom and Dad's MasterCard.
Europe should be looking only to Alabama for inspiration. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "The [Alabama] state constitution allows claims against appropriations to become void at the end of the fiscal year if the treasury lacks money to pay them. A treasurer who violates this provision is subject to a $5,000 fine, two years' imprisonment in the state penitentiary, or both, as well as impeachment."
That's the kind of provision that should have found its way into any serious European fiscal reform, except the fine should be millions and the jail time commensurate with damage inflicted. Imagine how quickly useless bureaucracies and unnecessary levels of parasitic governance would be weeded out. Just think of how much more thought would be given to ensuring that investments were made in areas with reliable return rather than in politically correct pet causes. European leaders have proven that they need to start off with their heads in the guillotine and earn their way out of it through fiscal competence.
The question on everyone's minds is whether the euro zone will collapse. It's just silly semantics, because the "euro zone" itself could be redefined or transformed at any time and survive. The far more important question is whether any given individual state within the zone will be able to dig itself out from under its own debt weight. Imposing imminent personal responsibility and accountability upon individual member leaders is the only real and lasting way to save the whole beast.