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EU agrees Irish treaty compromise

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana (R) and Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen
Ireland's vote is vital for the future of the EU treaty

EU leaders have agreed a deal they hope will secure the Lisbon Treaty a "Yes" vote in a second Irish referendum.

Ireland won legally-binding assurances that Lisbon would not affect Irish policies on military neutrality, taxes and abortion, diplomats said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said leaders had agreed to Irish demands that the guarantees would be given the status of a treaty "protocol".

But he stressed it would not affect the other 26 member countries.

The leaders have also agreed in principle to a new framework of rules to oversee the EU's financial sector.

On Thursday they backed Jose Manuel Barroso for a new term as president of the European Commission.

Smoothing concerns

Speaking at the end of the summit, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the agreed protocol was "specific to Ireland".

Gordon Brown outlines significance of deal

"The protocol status is no different from any other clarifications in other states," he said.

He said the new protocol would "only be subject to ratification at the time of the next accession treaty".

He did not give further details, but it is thought it will likely be attached to Croatia's EU accession treaty.

The Lisbon treaty has been ratified in most EU countries and the second Irish referendum - expected to be in October - was the biggest remaining hurdle.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen had said fears that the EU might be able to override Irish policies were among the factors that prompted voters to reject the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum last year.

This decision will not necessitate any re-ratification of the treaty
Draft EU summit conclusion

Supporters of the treaty - a complex set of institutional changes aimed at making the enlarged EU more efficient - were keen to avoid any new round of referendums on it, after years of negotiations.

Sweden, the incoming holder of the EU presidency, was anxious to move forward over Lisbon, especially as Britain's Conservative Party has pledged to hold a referendum on the treaty if elected to government.

Opponents of the treaty see it as part of a federalist agenda aimed at weakening national sovereignty.

Financial concessions

The EU leaders also backed a framework for enhanced oversight of the financial sector, after the UK won key concessions to the plans.

The UK had opposed proposals to give a new oversight body the ability to order national governments to use taxpayer money to bail out failing banks.

"Stronger cross-border supervision is in our interests," Gordon Brown said. "UK taxpayers will be protected. The City of London will stand to benefit from this".

EU plans tougher finance rules

The draft summit conclusions say the European Council - the assembly of EU leaders - "stresses that decisions taken by the European Supervisory Authorities should not impinge in any way on the fiscal responsibilities of member states".

The leaders want the European Commission to deliver detailed proposals for the new supervisory bodies by early autumn, so that the new framework will be in place next year.

In another concession to the UK, a new European Systemic Risk Board will not automatically be chaired by the head of the European Central Bank (ECB).

The ECB will still elect the chair, but the new body will not be controlled by the 16-nation eurozone. The board's job will be to spot any threats to financial stability across the EU.

On Thursday, the leaders unanimously nominated the conservative Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term as EU Commission president.

He had no rival - and even had backing from some centre-left leaders. His nomination now needs the approval of the European Parliament next month.



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