"Advocating cuts in the EU budget may be popular, but it is hugely irresponsible," warned EP president Martin Schulz in a speech to EU leaders at the start of special summit on the EU's long-term budget for 2014-2020 on Thursday. "If Europe is finally to find a way out of the crisis, then we must recognise that the EU budget is not part of the problem, but part of the solution."
As always, the European Council started with the leaders discussing the situation with the president of the European Parliament and Mr Schulz reminded them of Parliament's demand, adopted with an overwhelming majority in October, for sufficient financing for the Union in the years to 2020.
Acknowledging the genuine difficulties faced by certain member states, the president said at first sight it might appear irresponsible and illogical to call for an increase in the EU budget at a time of crisis. However, he explained: "Europe needs the EU budget in order to invest in growth. In order to create jobs. In order to support the member states in their efforts to make the structural adjustments which are now essential to address the problems of declining competitiveness and rising unemployment and poverty in particular."
Mr Schulz continued: "There is no escaping one simple fact: the focus on austerity to the exclusion of all else is not working. Now, at long last, Europe needs growth, not least because growth is the best way to reduce debt."
Read the president's speech to the political leaders and watch a recording of his press conference on Thursday evening by clicking on the links on the right