David Cameron has demanded billions of pounds in pay and pension cuts from the EU's pampered civil service in a show of solidarity with austerity-hit workers across Europe.
Ahead of a crucial budget summit starting later, he confronted President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso with a paper setting out how Brussels could slash at least six billion euro - £4.8bn - off its staff costs at a stroke by upping retirement ages, lowering pensions and trimming lavish salaries.
The Cameron list caught the pair by surprise when the Prime Minister was the first through the door for private talks before the showdown summit began.
The start of the meeting was delayed until mid-evening as the rest of the EU's leaders held their own "confessionals" throughout the day, setting out their positions on how much cash the EU should be given to pay for policies between 2014 and 2020.
Mr Cameron's position was clear - impose a real-terms freeze in spending in common with national public sector cuts, including a solidarity gesture by targeting the 60 billion euro-a-year (£48bn) administrative budget which pays the 40,000-plus civil service behind the Commission, Council and European Parliament.
Mr Cameron warned at the last EU summit that he was on the warpath over planned budget increases, pointing out that 16% of European Commission staff were now earning over 100,000 euro - £80,000 a year. He insisted they should face the same kind of crackdown on central administration costs as in Whitehall.
The attack followed a letter to EU chiefs from Mr Cameron and six other EU leaders pointing out that national public sectors across Europe had already carried out job cuts and pay freezes. It warned: "The staff of the European Institutions should share the burden."
A Government spokesman acknowledged the demand was symbolic, but important. The move turned the atmosphere frosty, according to some officials, but the Prime Minister insisted that ordinary people would not understand that eurocrats' pay and perks were continuing to flourish in the midst of serious hardship in some member states - the very member states being asked by Brussels to top up the EU budget.
Mr Van Rompuy and Mr Barroso both reportedly insisted that it was very difficult simply to take the axe to the eurocrat pay and perks regime. The Dutch and Germans weighed in behind Mr Cameron's demand for eurocrats to tighten their belts - although there were still big differences in national positions on the overall budget size as the summit was getting under way.
Earlier Mr Cameron insisted any rise in EU spending in 2014-2020 would be "quite wrong" and warned he would be fighting "very hard" for a good deal for British taxpayers and to keep the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.