A summit of the European Union's 27 national leaders, charged with agreeing on a long-term budget for the bloc, broke up Friday afternoon without being able to reach a deal.
Coming just days after the 17 eurogroup finance ministers failed, yet again, to agree on the conditions for releasing badly needed bailout money for Greece, the failure of the two-day summit raises questions about how the bloc makes important decisions. In most cases, unanimity is required, meaning that each country wields veto power.
The EU's top officials, who put in long hours trying to soften up the national leaders individually before putting them together in the same meeting room, tried to put a brave face on the budget deadlock.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who presides over the summits, said the “constructive discussions'' at the summit meant an agreement could be reached early next year. He added that the national leaders had instructed him and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to continue working toward consensus over the coming weeks.
Barroso, too, called the talks constructive. But he added, “we are not yet at the point of reaching consensus.''
The prospect of failure had hung over the EU leaders' summit, charged with agreeing on a long-term spending plan of around (euro) 1 trillion ($1.25 trillion) for the 27- country bloc, even before the meeting began.
Some countries wanted the budget to rise, while others insisted it had to fall.
Van Rompuy tried to thread the needle. He proposed a budget with some cuts, but in a post-summit press conference, he also offered a nod to those countries who believe greater spending is essential to spur growth in countries hit by recession.
“Growth in one country benefits all,'' he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, the most vocal proponent of holding the line on EU spending, said he had found "strong allies'' in the Dutch and Swedish leaders. And, indeed, it appeared that some countries, including Germany, took pains to ensure that Britain – a country some fear may eventually withdraw from the EU – did not find itself isolated.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stressed that it was important that Britain “remain engaged'' with Europe “because Britain is important to the EU as a whole.''
For his part, Cameron was firm. “The deal on the table from the EU President was just