The unity shown by European leaders in their ambitious bid to expand the European Union's ranks by 11 countries quickly falls apart when the subject turns to divvying up the bill.
The 15 EU leaders ended a two-day summit Tuesday without agreeing on how to revamp the union's finances. They gave themselves until March 1999 to resolve a squabble pitting Germany, the Netherlands, Austria and Sweden against the rest of the group.Like his Dutch, Austrian and Swedish counterparts, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl insists his country pays too much - $11.9 billion more than it gets back in aid to its farmers and poor regions. Germany wants to cut its contribution by one-third.
"This is not a declaration of war. We seek fair treatment," Kohl said at the summit. Kohl is up for re-election Sept. 27 and has made his desire to reduce Germany's EU contribution an issue in the tight race.
French President Jacques Chirac sees a simple reason for disagreeing with Kohl: "I'm not in favor of a reduction of the German contribution because it would mean an increase in the French contribution."
All of the EU leaders agree that financial reforms are needed before the trade bloc can include Cyprus and at least five east European nations to be admitted by 2004. Five more eastern neighbors are to follow. Expansion is expected to be expensive, though just how costly remains to be seen.
The European Commission never releases how much each member pays into the EU's $86 billion annual budget, or how much each gets in return. It maintains benefits cannot be reflected in hard figures alone.
Consequently, individual governments provide their own figures, leaving the calculating open to interpretation.
That will change. EU leaders have ordered the executive Commission to report on payments.