He was first in. Will he be first out?

David Cameron arriving ahead of the EU summit Image copyright Getty Images

David Cameron chose to be the first EU leader to meet the man chairing the summit which will set the EU's budget for seven years.

His aim was to convince Herman Van Rumpuy that he had come to seek a deal and was not set on vetoing one. But also to insist he could only sign up to a budget that does not rise faster than inflation and which has a British rebate which stays unchanged.

The man with the unenviable task of finding a compromise between 27 countries has drawn up a draft budget which is not far from Britain's first demand but breaches the second.

It sets the ceiling for planned EU spending - the equivalent of Europe's credit limit - just below what it is now - at 940 billion euros. David Cameron is arguing that actual spending - always a lower figure - should be frozen too.

He has proposed cutting billions of euros from the European Commission's proposed expansion of its favoured infrastructure projects and much smaller cuts - designed for their symbolic as much as their financial value - to the costs of the Brussels administration.

Increasing the staff pension age to 68 would save, it is claimed, a billion and a half euros. Another suggestion - uncosted - is scrapping a 16% salary premium paid to all staff who live in this city but are not from Belgium.

This summit will not succeed or fail on the back of such relatively small sums.

The key to it will be whether any political leader - Britain's or one of the other 26 - believes the political cost of this summit reaching a deal is greater than the cost of it failing.