The members of the European Union like to disagree about internal policy. A lot.
Foremost among these disputes -- besides the Common Agricultural Policy, anyway -- is the existence and allocation of "structural funds." There are essentially the EU's answer to wealth redistribution. Countries that pay into the system more than they receive -- such as Germany and the Netherlands -- are constantly harping at the recipients of the funds, mostly Eastern European countries (and Spain and Portugal).
So it's no surprise that Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski -- who heads a country that is one of the fund's largest recipients -- has come out in defense of structural funds. The European Council*, made up of member state governments, has tentatively cut the European Commission's proposed 2011 budget by $4.6 billion, and the savings would largely come from reducing structural funds. Britain and other countries demanded the cuts be even larger. British Prime Minister David Cameron summed up the attitude:
As we reduce our deficits, I think it is very important that we both argue to make sure that the European budget is, over time, reduced rather than increased.
What is sort of bewildering about the whole thing (and the global recession writ large) is that richer EU member states should be trying right now to create economic growth in the EU's poorer member states by giving them aid, because in the long run that will make their own countries more prosperous.
The debate over the budget will move to the European Parliament later this year. The EP is a notoriously pro-integration body, making an increase in funding if anything more likely than the austerity plans being pushed. Once again, the diffuse structures and voting rules of EU institutions mean that any significant reduction in the funds is highly, highly unlikely to happen. The entire debate is just one more example of the EU's integration by inertia, which is why you should be skeptical of anyone's claims that a united Europe will dominate geopolitics anytime soon.
*This was originally written as the Council of Europe, instead of the correct institution, the European Council.