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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Chiefs Tackling Budget

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European Union finance ministers began a day of talks in Brussels on Monday saying they were optimistic an agreement on the future of the bloc's $100 billion annual budget could be reached before the end of March.

"I think we will make progress today," Belgian Finance Minister Jean-Jacques Viseur told reporters as he arrived for the meeting. "We all want to see an agreement in March and we are beginning to see a narrowing of positions."

The European Commission has proposed the budget, which has been fixed for 1999 at about 85 billion euros ($95.96 billion), grow by 2.5 percent a year over the 2000-2006 period during which the bloc wants to take in new members from Central and Eastern Europe.

Under the commission's plan, the budget for the EU's existing 15 members would reach around 101 billion euros by the end of that period.

However, a majority of countries, including Germany and France, want spending on the current 15 EU members to be held at 1999 levels f a result which commission President Jacques Santer described for the first time as likely.