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EU seeking end to 2014 budget row

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(BRUSSELS) - EU ministers sought Monday to end a simmering 1.5-billion-euro ($2-billion) row within EU institutions over the bloc's 2014 budget.

With the bloc's three bodies -- the 28 member states, the European Parliament, and the executive European Commission -- split over next year's spending, ministers began compromise talks ahead of a Wednesday midnight deadline.

At stake is a call by austerity-minded governments to keep 2014 payments under 135 billion euros, which is one billion less than sought by the Commission and 1.4 billion under the 136.44-billion-euro budget demanded by the parliament.

But even the last figure would be six percent below the 2013 budget, due to economic constraints still severely undermining Europe.

Lithuania, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was chairing conciliation talks between the three institutions, shuttling back and forth in a process that EU diplomats forecast could last well into the early hours of Tuesday.

Lithuanian Vice Minister for Finance Minister Algimantas Rimunkas began the talks in upbeat mode, saying they were taking place "in a very constructive atmosphere".

But he conceded that "this year we are under complex constraints with fiscal difficulties for quite a number of member states".

"Our proposals are realistic and fair," said his Irish counterpart Brian Hayes. "The mood music is good."

A compromise before the Wednesday deadline would pave the way for the European Parliament to adopt next week the EU's long-term trillion-euro budget for 2014-2020.

A vote on the seven-year budget, known as the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), was postponed to November 19 because of the row. The 2014 budget is the first to be discussed of the upcoming MFF.

Tuesday's talks also touch on adjustments to the 2013 budget after member states were asked to make up an 11.6-billion-euro shortfall needed for unpaid bills.

Meeting of Economic and Financial Affairs Council (ECOFIN) (Budget)

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