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EU asks for 6.8 per cent budget increase

European Commission sparks anger as it ignores member states' austerity drives.

The EU Commission has submitted its request for its 2013 budget, and calls for a 6.8 per cent rise, raising questions about the executive's commitment to the austerity programme the rest of Europe is suffering.

The budget request would require an extra £7.2bn from the treasuries of member nations, including an £890m contribution from Britain, which is obliged to pay 12.4 per cent of all EU expenditure.

Part of the rise is due to a need to pay for projects which have already been approved or even delivered, including £8.6bn in unpaid contracts. The Telegraph reports that the total "black hole" in EU budgets, the difference between spending commitments and cash contributions from governments, stands at £169bn.

The director of Open Europe, Mats Persson, argues that:

The Commission says it needs the extra cash in order to honour spending commitments made in previous years, i.e. they have "bills to pay". True, the mechanics differ from national budgets in that it is more complicated to move funds from one spending area to another, but apart from that, the EU budget is facing exactly the same pressures as national spending programmes: if there’s not enough cash in the pot, prioritise.

The Commission has attempted to soften the blow by asking for an increase in administrative spending which is lower than inflation, and to freeze in real-terms the budget commitments for next year. Even so, it is unlikely the increased budget will go through without a fight. The Europe minister, David Lidington, has insisted that the overall budget be frozen in real terms, which would allow just a 2.3 per cent increase. And it seems likely that France and Germany will join in. Certainly Sarkozy won't allow anything of this magnitude to go through without a fight before the second round of the presidential elections, and would probably prefer to keep any rise off the table until June, when the legislative elections happen.

All of this is just a taster of the bigger fight to be had, when the EU's next seven year plan is put together. With nearly €1trn in spending to allocate over 2014 to 2020, there's a lot to argue over.

By Alex Hern

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.