The proposal will set in train a prolonged period of wrangling between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, over both the total level of spending and the allocation of the budget to specific policy areas.
Janusz Lewandowski, the European commissioner for financial programming and budget, is facing demands from several member states for the EU to match the retrenchment in national budgets.
EU sources said that they expected the Commission to set out a “tactical” proposal as a starting point for negotiations, with an opening gambit similar to the 5.9% that it proposed a year ago for the 2011 budget. That recommended increase was eventually reduced to a 2.9% increase over the EU's 2010 spending, after member states had demanded cuts.
But Lewandowski has already said that a 2.9% increase will not suffice for 2012. The multiannual cycle of spending on regional aid and research envisages higher spending towards the end of the 2007-13 period and that makes reductions in other areas of the EU budget almost inevitable.
Commission officials said that increases should be expected to total spending on cohesion and regional-aid policy programmes, agriculture and rural development.
There will also be increased funding for the European External Action Service, now that it is up and running. That would inevitably imply cuts in other areas. Last year there were cuts to EU foreign aid, environment, fisheries and initiatives on citizenship.
“The negotiations will be even more difficult than last year because this is the second-to-last year of the current financial programme, which means many of the big bills will be coming, and they were already difficult to pay last year,” said Sidonia Je?drzejewska, a Polish centre-right MEP who drafted the Parliament's response on the 2011 budget.
Lewandowski will present his proposals to MEPs on Wednesday and to EU finance ministers on 17 May, after which both the Council and Parliament will draft their own positions before they start face-to-face negotiations.
The Lisbon treaty rules streamlined the timetable for the Council of Ministers and the Parliament to agree on the annual budget. They will have only 21 days, starting on 19 October, to reach a final deal. If, as last year, those negotiations fail, the Commission would have to present a new draft.
Diplomats said that they expected another bruising battle between the Council and the Parliament, with member states demanding spending cuts if not an actual budget freeze, to reflect economic and budgetary constraints at national level. The UK and Sweden, among others, are expected to push for “as low an increase in spending as possible”. Anything over a proposed 3% increase over this year's budget would be “very difficult” for those countries to accept, said a diplomat.
Francesca Balzani, an Italian centre-left MEP who is responsible for drafting the Parliament's position on the 2012 EU budget, said that the EU budget should not be cut to reflect austerity. She said it had to be used “as a tool” to help member states out of the economic crisis. MEPs have called for more spending on employment, innovation and research, education and social inclusion policies, as well as calling for more EU aid to north African countries. Je?drzejewska said that only an increase of 5.9% or more would be “realistic” to pay for those priorities.