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.

Before a crucial budget summit on Thursday night, he confronted European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso with a paper setting out how Brussels could slash at least six billion euros (£4.8 billion) 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 on Thursday morning 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 (£48 billion) 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.

Mr Cameron wants at least a real-terms freeze in EU spending, if not actual cuts, and to retain in full Britain's EU budget rebate worth nearly £3 billion a year off the UK's annual contributions to Brussels. A compromise is already on the table - a seven-year budget "envelope" of 940 billion euros (£756 billion) for 2014/2020 - a cut of 60 billion euros (£48 billion) on a commission demand, and nearly five billion euros (£3.8 billion) lower than the 2007/2013 budget ceiling.

The move was seen in Downing Street as being in the right direction - although the "cut" is in a spending ceiling which officials say has not been reached. It is also above the 886 billion euros (£712 billion) originally pitched by the Treasury as in line with the real-terms freeze Mr Cameron wants. But on Thursday night officials on all sides conceded that the figures were so flexible and open to interpretation that Mr Cameron and his colleagues have plenty of wiggle room within which to claim a summit budget success.