In their historic meeting this week at the White House, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and President Trump agreed to negotiate zero tariffs between the EU and the U.S. on all items other than automobiles. (A deal on autos may soon follow. German carmakers have indicated their willingness to embrace zero tariffs on autos as well).
The elimination of transatlantic tariffs would, essentially, replicate the free trade rules that govern intra-EU trade.
The foundation of today's European Union was the Common Market of the 1950s — a customs union of France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries — and this negotiation extends the old Common Market to the U.S.
These talks come at a time when the other elements of the EU are being called into question by its component members.
Between Brexit, which removes the United Kingdom from the EU, and Southern European objections to the currency union and the Euro — there is little left of the fabled European Union.
The premise of the Common Market was eminently sound. The elimination of tariffs and customs barriers among European states had a tremendously positive impact on their economies.
Extending this union, in effect, across the Atlantic would have a similar salutary effect.
But the other elements of the EU are less benevolent. The single currency is a device imposed by Germany to prevent devaluation of currencies by its poorer neighbors to the south, ensuring that Germany imports to Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal remain inexpensive and competitive with local industries.
The political union was imposed by the member state parliaments and their governments without any real consultation with their publics.
The results of the Brexit referendum underscore the resentment against this undemocratic usurpation.
But if the customs and tariff elements of the EU are now to be extended to the U.S. and questions about the common currency and the political union grow, what is left of the EU?