BRUSSELS – Divisions among the 27 European Union countries over increasing the region's €1 trillion budget deepened Tuesday as the region's two opposing camps set out their arguments over raising spending in the midst of a three-year debt crisis.
A group of 15 of the political leaders meeting in Brussels Tuesday called for an increase in the EU budget, which is used to fund pan-European programs designed to ensure a level economic playing-field across the region. Meanwhile on a visit to Rome, David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the euroskeptic U.K. called on the EU to "live within its means".
One week ahead of a summit of all 27 countries on the budget, Tuesday's decision reflected the unity of the mostly poorer member states which are counting on backing from a larger EU budget to get them back on track for economic growth. The 15 countries, ranging from Portugal in the southwest to Poland in the northeast, fear that the Nov. 22-23 summit, which was called to set spending limits for the EU institutions through the year 2020, will hit programs and funding they are counting on.
EU Parliament President Martin Schulz said that "to cut the EU budget might be popular in some of the member states but it is absolutely counterproductive." The EU parliament needs to give its consent to any budget deal.
The current budget proposals call for a €1.03 trillion ($1.31 trillion) spending ceiling for 2014-2020, but the U.K. wants to slash that by more than €50 billion ($64 billion).
The U.K. is leading a group of countries that wants to contain its contributions to EU coffers and is calling for further austerity. Their argument is that when people have to cut spending at home, the EU should do likewise.
Cameron told reporters in Rome after a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti that "we cannot go on increasing EU spending."
The U.K. leader also visited the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Hague Tuesday, where the two of them called for tough negotiations.
In a further move that highlights the split over EU spending, a meeting to fix the 2012 and 2013 budget was canceled at the last minute Tuesday amid the same acrimony over spending as little as possible in times of crisis.
Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this article