At this point, there seems little doubt that some sort of United States of Europe is slowly emerging. It’s kind of exciting, like watching a new planet condensing from the clouds and dust of the cosmos. Yet its final form will take years to consolidate, so it’s also pretty nerve-racking. Continental integration is not for the fainthearted, as a young America learned two centuries ago. But once a critical number of member states have ratified the recently-negotiated pact for stricter fiscal and budget rules – becoming more like America’s member states, nearly all of which are charged with balancing their state’s budgets – then comes the next step. A consensus is forming around the need for job creation and economic growth, and clearly the current austerity regime will not produce that. So we are likely to see some stimulus spending and other policies targeted to help struggling member states. Gazing into my crystal ball at Europe’s future transfer union, it’s pretty clear that Greece, Portugal and Italy (though perhaps not so much Spain and Ireland) are positioned to be the Mississippi, Alabama and Alaska of Europe. Many of the newer democracies in eastern and central Europe will continue to need assistance as well. And Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and northern Europe in general will be like California, New York and Illinois, perpetually paying out as the price for gaining a union. It takes time and a crisis or two or three to focus people’s minds and move attitudes. Merkel, to her credit, has been the European leader with a steady hand on the helm, ploughing forward in rough seas while the rest prepared themselves for the necessary sacrifices. Now Europe is halfway across, and everyone agrees they can’t go back.