David Cameron has triggered a war of words after challenging Eurocrats to cut their own pay instead of seeking more money from national exchequers.
After a summit in Brussels the Prime Minister repeated warnings that Britain will block an EU budget deal in negotiations next month unless Brussels shows the same restraint as national authorities.
Then he said: "My favourite figure for the day... there is I think 16% of employees at the European Commission earning over 100,000 euros (more than £80,000).
"What we have done in Britain is we have cracked down on the central administration, the costs of Whitehall. There are things that are more important and we need to see that kind of approach (from Brussels)."
EU officials said the 16% referred only to about 12,000 in senior-grade civil-service, not the entire 35,000-strong Commission workforce, meaning only 2,000 eurocrats were getting the high-end salaries instead of well over 5,000 on Mr Cameron's figures.
Government officials then claimed that the average salary across all 55,000 staff employed by the three key EU bodies - European Commission, Council of Ministers and European Parliament, worked out at 102,000 euros. That figure was dismissed soon afterwards by a Commission official who challenged the government to justify its calculations.
Earlier in his post-summit press conference, Mr Cameron admitted: "I have a reputation for being frank and plain speaking in Europe. If I don't like something I say so. What matters is are we getting the best deal for Britain?"
The EU budget deal he and Germany will lead the fight for is a real-terms freeze in euro-spending.
Setting the scene for a showdown on the issue at another summit next month, the Prime Minister warned: "Yes, I'm going to be tough on the EU budget. It would be good to have a deal but would not be acceptable to see a huge increase in EU spending at a time when national budgets are being cut.
"The British public expect a tough and rigorous approach and that is exactly what they will get. If we cannot get a deal, there's no point doing a deal that is a bad deal."