Cowen on collision course with British over new deal
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen is set to face off with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the legal guarantees for the second Lisbon Treaty referendum.
The British are demanding changes to the wording of the draft copy of the guarantees, published by the Government this week.
Mr Brown's officials are also querying the legal status of the Irish guarantees, causing concerns over whether it will have the strongest legal standing or not.
The British objection is the only serious problem facing Mr Cowen as he heads to Brussels today for the EU summit to sign off on the guarantees.
The Government argues the guarantees will be legally binding and won't cause any other country to need to re-ratify the treaty.
But French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced last December that the guarantees would be a "protocol", which is a legal statement attached to a treaty and therefore the strongest possible agreement.
The British fear the guarantees will force it to put the treaty through the House of Commons again -- particularly if it is a protocol.
Britain was the only country to look for changes to be made to the draft circulated by the Government earlier this week.
"Mr Brown and the people around him are deeply nervous about any suggestion he would ever again have to go back to the House of Commons," a source told the Irish Independent.
The guarantees will be the first item on the agenda at the summit today, but it is not clear when an agreement will be reached.
"If there are problems, it will be extended. There's a feeling there isn't much value in having a long debate around the table," a source said.
"The guarantees would possibly be turned into a protocol at a later date, but there are reservations about going that far at this stage. The major concern of certain member states is not to revisit the ratification process. Our view is it would not require re-ratification," a diplomatic source said.
Regardless of the outcome of the summit, Mr Cowen is not expected to announce a date for the referendum just yet, although it will still be some time in late September or early October.
Mr Cowen said it was in the country's national interest to ratify the treaty. "If we get the assurances we are seeking -- I am confident we will do so -- I will put that question to the people," he said.
"We will make it clear that the current situation, with respect to our national position on taxation, neutrality and ethical issues, will be unchanged by virtue of the entering into force of the Lisbon treaty."