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Page last updated at 07:07 GMT, Friday, 19 June 2009 08:07 UK

Irish issue to dominate EU talks

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 begin the second day of a summit in Brussels hoping to find a way to grant Ireland the assurances it needs to approve the Lisbon treaty.

Irish PM Brian Cowen warned on Thursday he could lose a second referendum unless he got iron-clad legal guarantees about the treaty's effects.

Some EU countries fear reopening the debate may encourage treaty opponents.

EU leaders have unanimously backed Jose Manuel Barroso for a second term as president of the European Commission.

They have also agreed in principle to a new framework of rules to oversee the financial sector.

Remaining hurdle

Mr Cowen has been seeking a protocol to be put into the EU's founding treaty to safeguard Ireland's sovereignty over its military, tax and abortion laws.

I am sure we shall be able to provide robust guarantees for Irish voters, without giving certain countries a pretext for reopening ratification on the Lisbon treaty
Jan Fischer
Czech Prime Minister

He said fears that the EU might be able to override Irish policies on these issues were among factors that prompted voters to reject the treaty in a referendum last year.

But some EU leaders fear that agreeing to such a protocol could allow Eurosceptics in Britain and elsewhere to demand a review of the whole treaty.

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

They have instead offered Ireland guarantees that are still legally binding but do not require further steps.

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

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

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer - whose country holds the EU presidency - predicted a deal would be struck over Irish guarantees on Friday.

"I am sure we shall be able to provide robust guarantees for Irish voters, without giving certain countries a pretext for reopening ratification on the Lisbon treaty," he said late on Thursday.

Financial concessions

EU ministers are expected on Friday to back 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.

It also opposed the European Central Bank heading such a watchdog.

Any change should not "impinge in any way on the fiscal responsibilities of member states," Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said.

"It is only logical that supervisory decisions with an impact on taxpayers must be taken by national authorities."

The leaders had the easier task of nominating 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.

Mr Barroso said on Thursday he was proud to have unanimous backing from the EU leaders.

On the financial reforms, he said: "We have put forward an ambitious and realistic set of proposals. This is part of our response to this economic and financial crisis."



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