Cowen gets year to sell 'Lisbon II' in new vote
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has been given a year by his European counterparts to push through a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, the Irish Independent has learned.
EU leaders yesterday firmly ruled out a renegotiation of the treaty as a way to resolve the crisis caused by Ireland's 'No' vote last week.
Government sources said it was also made clear that there was no alternative to a new referendum.
"All were anxious that it be resolved well before the European elections next June," a government source said.
The Government now faces the difficult prospect of holding a referendum re-run next spring. But without a renegotiation on the cards, it will face major obstacles in selling "Lisbon II" to the electorate.
The main option available will be to get written assurances on key issues such as tax, abortion and neutrality, and a deal may also be struck on the contentious allocation of commisioners to each country.
Mr Cowen now has four months -- until the next summit in October -- to come up with a roadmap on how to push through a new vote.
Voters will most likely be presented with the stark choice of approving Ireland's future in the EU with the new Lisbon rules, or being left behind.
Attending his first EU summit as Taoiseach, Mr Cowen got the support of influential leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to hammer out a new formula acceptable to both the electorate and Europe.
"Angela Merkel was very helpful, as were the British. But there does not seem to be any other alternative at this stage," a source said.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso indicated Mr Cowen will be given time to assess the situation. "We both agree that the next meeting of the council in October will be an appropriate occasion for further discussion."
The proposals expected at that stage were described by a government source last night as a "pencil plan", rather than definitive conclusions.
"There isn't a gun to the head saying you have to say in October what you are going to do," the government source added.
Mr Cowen insisted it was "far too early" yet for anybody to put forward proposals.
Mr Barroso was the first of many leaders to indicate a full renegotiation was not on the cards as the deal had been agreed by 27 members.
"It will be very difficult, extremely difficult, to get any institutional change regarding the text of the Lisbon Treaty as it was approved," he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Cowen admitted for the first time last night that the economic downturn and immigration played a factor in the 'No' vote.
The Taoiseach said it was still very early in the period of analysis on the rejection of the referendum.
"But less explicit and less direct influences may also have been factors," he said.
"Economic uncertainty, higher food prices, the credit crunch, the increase in fuel prices, on top of more expensive mortgage payments, particularly after such a long period of strong economic performance, may have contributed to frustration among the electorate."