A difference in how EU states interpret figures looks set to provide negotiators with just enough wriggle room to strike a deal on the EU's next long-term budget at a summit today
Proposals from European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who will chair negotiations on the 2014-2020 spending plan, hinge on the fact that the budget is always expressed in two figures – payments and commitments.
Commitments are legal pledges to fund future projects or programmes while payments are forecasts of actual spending. Because pledges do not always result in demands for cash, payments are always lower.
The difference should be sufficient to get a deal since many countries that are net contributors base their calculations on payments while net recipients prefer commitments.
By proposing deeper cuts to payments, Mr Van Rompuy hopes to win the support of Britain for a deal without alienating poorer southern and eastern European countries that want to maximise the amount of commitments that may come their way.
Italy's EU affairs minister said yesterday that he expected Mr Van Rompuy to propose a further €15bn-€20bn cut in commitments on top of the €80bn already trimmed from the original proposal.
That would bring the overall figure for commitments down to between €952bn and €957bn, or roughly 1pc of the EU's annual economic output.