BRUSSELS – Which side of this week's debate on the European Union budget a country takes can depend largely on which side its bread is buttered.
Those that contribute more to the EU than they get back generally want to hold the line on the organization's budget — or even see spending fall. Those who receive more money than they put in tend to support a robust rise, if at all possible — and regard possible cuts with dread.
The leaders of the 27 EU member countries descended on Brussels on Thursday to duke it out over the next two, three or even four days regarding the EU's budget trajectory over the seven years from 2014-2020. And, for whatever reason, the philosophies expressed often correlate closely with the money involved.
Each of the EU's 27 national leaders can veto the budget plan. With such diametrically opposed philosophies — and with real money at stake — whether they will be able to reach a consensus is anybody's guess.
Here's a look at the two main camps:
Many of those countries that contribute more to the EU budget than they take away are fighting increases in spending, claiming it's wasteful, inefficient, and inappropriate to boost the EU's spending when national budgets are being cut.
Leading the would-be budget-cutters is British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose country is, not coincidentally, one of the largest net contributors to the EU budget, second only to Germany.
"At a time when we're making difficult decisions at home over public spending, it would be quite wrong — it is quite wrong — for there to be proposals for this increased, extra spending in the EU," Cameron said Thursday.
A number of other net contributors — Germany, Finland, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands, for example — share more or less the same philosophy.
Other countries, most of which get more money from out of the EU than they put in, argue that the union's budget is the best instrument to help the region emerge from the financial crisis. A strong budget, they claim, is the best way to support investment, growth and jobs. Even countries that are net contributors to the EU benefit from its spending in the other countries, they say — not least because the poorer members will then buy more of the richer member's exports.
Fifteen EU countries have joined together to form the Friends of Cohesion Policy, taking the name from the EU's "cohesion funds," which are intended to help the union hold together by investing in poorer areas so that the gap between the haves and have-nots becomes narrower. The countries in the group are: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain.
"Better spending does not rhyme with no spending," said Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, whose country is a major net recipient of EU money. In fact, all 15 members of the Friends of Cohesion Policy turn out to be net recipients.
Don Melvin can be reached at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin .