Both sides had threatened to walk away from the table — again — if they didn't get what they wanted. The first summit to negotiate a budget collapsed in November.
Beyond the deeper philosophical differences, there were national concerns that made the negotiations particularly long and difficult. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, for example, had pledged to maintain his country's discount in the amount it pays to the EU — a €1 billion discount — and said he fought to achieve that, successfully, right up to the last minute.
Despite criticism of the cuts, Van Rompuy noted that the proposed budget did put aside €6 billion ($8.02 billion) to help alleviate youth unemployment, which has skyrocketed because of the economic crisis over the past few years, notably in Greece and Spain. He also said it included real increases for programs to foster education, growth and innovation.
The EU, with a population of more than 500 million people and an annual gross domestic product of €12 trillion ($16.05 trillion), is the world's largest economy.
But the EU's budget for 2012 is €147.2 billion ($196.87 billion) — less than one-fifth the size of the budget of the U.K. alone.
Separate from the national budgets, it is designed in part to balance out the economic development of EU members by injecting funding into poorer countries. The EU has funded hundreds of thousands of infrastructure and capital projects over the years, from the installation of broadband network to upgrading road networks.
The EU budget includes, as well, items meant to generate economic growth in the future, such as research and development, increasing digitalization and creating a new, more accurate satellite navigation system. It also funds regulation and administration in such areas as mergers and competition, the review of national budgets to ensure they do not include excessive deficits and banking supervision.