BRUSSELS - European Union leaders agreed the framework for a new long-term budget today after 15 hours of intense negotiations, laying the ground for €960 billion of spending on everything from agriculture to scientific research in the years ahead.
The agreement, which EU officials said would only be finalised later today, strikes a balance between the demands of northern European countries such as Britain and the Netherlands that wanted a belt-tightening EU budget, and countries in the south and east that wanted sustained spending on farming subsidies and much-needed infrastructure.
"We feel pretty confident that we have the framework for a deal," said one EU official speaking on condition of anonymity moments after leaders agreed the outlines. "The deal is not completely finalised, but we feel sure it will be done today."
The officials said about €12 billion would be cut from the last proposal, made at a summit in November when agreement eluded leaders, bringing the headline ceiling for spending down to €960 billion over the full 2014-2020 budget.
That represents a decrease of about 3 per cent on the last multi-annual budget - the first time a long-term EU spending plan has seen a net reduction.
Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said the European Parliament had still to approve the budget and it could not be "taken for granted". The Taoiseach, in discussions with the heads of state in Brussels today would make it clear "what the European Parliament is seeking", Mr Gilmore added.