The Prime Minister insisted that if the numbers on the Brussels table did not come down, then there would not be a deal.
An anxious atmosphere hung over the early talks as they were delayed with attempts made to get David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande into the same room to agree the broad parameters of a compromise settlement that could see a few billion pounds knocked off the original proposal that was just shy of one trillion euros for the years 2014 to 2020.
A cut in the seven-year budget to about €930 billion would be a first for the EU and, after his speech offering an in-out referendum on Britain's membership, would be presented as a great victory for Mr Cameron when he makes a Commons statement on the summit on Monday.
The Prime Minister told reporters: "The EU should not be immune from the sorts of pressures we've had to reduce spending, find efficiencies and make sure we spend money wisely."
He added: "When we were last here in November, the numbers were much too high: they need to come down, and if they don't come down, then there won't be a deal."
Mrs Merkel said: "We have to be careful with the way we spend but also show solidarity between net contributors and recipients."
Mr Hollande said the push for savings must not be allowed to destabilise Europe's recovery.