The FINANCIAL — It was a long night of impromptu huddles, slammed doors and snatched sleep for Europe's leaders who spent more than 24 hours thrashing out an EU budget deal that also largely protected their national interests.
Prime Minister David Cameron opened the hostilities by seeking from the outset to dictate the rules of the game. "He announced how much he wanted to pay, and tried to shape the discussion of the budget on that basis," one negotiator said.
He was supported in this by EU President Herman Van Rompuy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — an alliance that caught the French unawares.
President Francois Hollande had agreed with Merkel the night before the summit to start negotiations at 960 billion euros in commitments — and 913 billion euros in actual payments.
But a compromise offer prepared by Van Rompuy was well below this, closer to 905 billion euros in payments.
The figure was designed to appease the British, but the French refused to play ball.
So the summit's formal opening was delayed by two hours let Van Rompuy modify his plans. But the two hours morphed into six, and there was still no deal when the summit finally opened ahead of dinner.
The 27 heads of state and government sat down for a light meal of sole followed by guinea fowl — and then stayed up till breakfast.
As EUbusiness said, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti took a hard line against Britain, harping on Cameron's pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership by 2107. "We cannot accept a deal dictated by Great Britain — a country we can't even say with certainty will still be in the EU in 2017," Monti said.
Van Rompuy tried to begin discussions on actual payments to the EU budget, not commitments, which are higher, but was forced to back down.
As the debate stretched into the night, there were moments of theatre — arguments, sulks, slammed doors, mediation and haggling.
Several leaders snatched naps where they could, some on sofas in their respective negotiating rooms. Energy levels were kept up with coffee, or in the case of the British delegation, with Haribo sweets.
"It took some tough negotiations to get David Cameron to accept to raise the payments level," said one negotiator. "It went up billion by billion, from 905 to 908.4, which was the final figure he would accept."
Cameron had wanted to limit payments to 886 billion euros, "but in the end he agreed to raise his ceiling by 22.4 billion", diplomats said.
The summit finally reached a fragile compromise on a commitments ceiling of 960 billion and 908.4 billion for payments, although the deal still has to be approved by the European Parliament.
The European Commission had a rough ride in the negotiations, forced to abandon some of its most ambitious proposals as its demands were slashed by 90 billion euros.
"It is not a fantastic compromise deal but it is acceptable," a French diplomatic source told AFP.