Last-ditch talks on the EU's budget for 2013 scheduled for tonight have been cancelled after MEPs refused to attend.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, told prime ministers from 15 member states meeting in Brussels today that the MEPs would not attend tonight's negotiations because several member states are steadfast in their opposition to a top-up request from the European Commission for €9 billion under the 2012 budget.
The MEPs' refusal means that the European Commission's current draft budget for 2013 has failed to gain the required backing of the European Parliament and of a weighted majority of member states.
Alain Lamassoure, the Parliament's lead negotiator on the budget, said just hours before the meeting was supposed to start that the negotiations cannot resume as long as the member states refuse to approve the Commission's request for additional funds under the 2012 budget.
The hardline opponents of the request are Britain, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. They are backed, with less fervour, by Austria, Finland, France and Germany. Informal talks will now resume to see whether any compromise might be possible.
A spokesman for Cyprus, the holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of Ministers, said that Cypriot diplomats would continue their efforts to strike a compromise.
The failure of the talks - a first round on Friday (9 November) had broken down in acrimony - means that the Commission will have to submit a new proposal.
The MEPs insisted on an agreement on the top-up request before turning to the draft 2013 budget. They backed the Commission's position that the additional money was needed to pay for legally binding commitments that had been made earlier.
A group of eight member states doubted the €9bn figure and demanded that the payments be made with money that had been saved elsewhere, rather than with new contributions from the member states.
MEPs and member states did, however, agree to unblock €670 million in earthquake aid for Italy - another top-up request from the Commission. Lamassoure said that the Parliament's budgets committee, which he chairs, would vote on it on Thursday (15 November), with a plenary voted scheduled for 21 November.