European Union ministers gathered Thursday to try to thrash out the 27-nation bloc's 2012-2020 budget, amid deep divisions over Brussels' spending plans.
The informal talks, called by Poland which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, aim to pave the way for a budget summit in Brussels expected to be held at the end of October.
"Discussions are going to be what in diplomatic jargon we call 'frank'. It won't be easy," Mikolaj Dowgielewicz, Poland's EU affairs minister, told reporters ahead of the meeting in the Baltic resort of Sopot.
"We want the talks in Sopot to be a steeping stone," he said.
"I think this will be constructive, albeit heated. As we hold the presidency, we'll be doing what we can to achieve concrete results. But this is still the beginning of a tough negotiating process," he added.
At the end of June the European Commission -- the EU's Brussels-based executive body -- unveiled a 2014-2020 draft budget that included a five-percent rise from the previous seven-year financial cycle that would take spending to 1,083 billion euros ($1,570 billion).
That came under a hail of fire from Europe's austerity-driven governments, notably two of the bloc's "big three" powers, Britain and Germany, who said Brussels must send a message of frugality too.
Poland and other nations from the behind the former Iron Curtain which have joined the EU since its "big bang" expansion from 15 members in 2004 have also been locked in domestic austerity drives.
In the budget talks, their priorities include ensuring that funds allocated to help poorer member states catch up with richer nations are not slashed.
In addition, they are seeking to ensure a level playing field for their farmers, arguing that they do not get a fair slice of EU funds for the agricultural sector.