The Government is to lobby the European Commission for greater flexibility on spending ahead of next year's budget.

Speaking in Brussels, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said that recent flexibility shown to France on its budget deficits should be matched by flexibility for Ireland on rules which constrain Government spending.

Mr Noonan said he had raised the issue with German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble on the margins of a meeting of EU finance ministers.

Last month the European Commission gave France an extra two years, until 2017, to get its budget deficit below 3% in exchange for a number of a commitment to carry out reforms.

The decision has attracted a growing chorus of unease that bigger countries are being given preferential treatment.

Mr Noonan said today he did not object to the French concessions, but said Ireland also needed flexibility.

"I am saying that if you're giving discretion to six or seven European countries, including France, we want discretion as well.

"But our discretion is in the application of the rules," he said.

Under the so-called Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP), one of the tough budget rules underpinning the single currency, all EU member states must limit spending increases according to their economic growth rates.

Ireland is currently under the EDP.

However, the Government is arguing that the mechanism for measuring Irish growth under the EDP is inaccurate since it is averaged over ten years.

Under the calculating method, Ireland's growth is benchmarked at 0.6%, whereas the Government is arguing the real growth rates this year and next are above 3%.

"The relevance of it is to give me budgetary space to make decisions for the 2016 budget that I'll be introducing in October," Mr Noonan told reporters.

"Whether I use the space or not is not the issue.  It is simply to give me the space so that I'm not inhibited by European rules to spend money which is necessary."

Mr Noonan raised the issue at last night's meeting of the eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, and again this morning at the meeting of all 28 finance ministers.

He presented a Government position paper in the issue, and has instructed officials at the Department of Finance to open negotiations with European Commission officials.

"I would expect we'll make progress," he said.  "I'm negotiating.  I don't want to break rules, I want to be given space, I want to be given agreement, but I think I've made progress."

Mr Noonan pointed out that the European Commission had itself forecast Irish growth rates this year of 3.5%, and he anticipated the forthcoming Spring Economic Forecast would increase that figure to 3.6%.

When asked what a different interpretation of the rules would mean for the budget spend in October, Mr Noonan said: "The budget is around €50 billion, so if you take 1% or 2% of that, or 3% of that, you can see where the space is."

Mr Noonan also argued - by way of illustration - that a similar technical application of the rules had taken place in terms of migration flows out of Ireland.

He said that in 2008 a Commission official had projected that Ireland's population would decline by one million based on the rates at the time.

"They took [the figures] forward and said the population would decline by a million, where we'd be expected to budget in the longterm against the backdrop of a declining population when the fastest [population] growth rates in Europe are in west Dublin, and we need to build loads of schools.

"The evidence on the ground contradicts the theory.

"I talked to Wolfgang Schäuble about it and said, what they're asking me to budget against is the equivalent of asking you to budget against a decline in the German population of 20 million.

"He got the point immediately."

Mr Noonan stressed that he was not criticising the decision to grant more leeway to France.

"France and a lot of other countries were being given concessions from the full applicability of the rules.  I was saying, that's fine, I agree with all that, but, I have problems as well.  So I need flexibility as well.  That was the linkage to France, but I didn't oppose France in any way, or criticise them in any way."

Mr Noonan also rejected claims that big countries like France were being given preferential treatment, pointing out that Belgium had also been given flexibility on hitting budget deficit rules.