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Cowen plays for time

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TAOISEACH Brian Cowen will today resist pressure from EU leaders to set out an immediate plan and timeframe to resolve the crisis caused by Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

Mr Cowen will instead make a desperate plea for more time as EU leaders grill him on the Government's plans to resolve the impasse at an EU summit in Brussels this evening.

The Taoiseach will say any calls for an immediate timeframe to rescue the treaty are simply not realistic.

Government sources said last night Mr Cowen would not be able to indicate when or how he intended to repair the damage caused by Ireland's 'No' vote.

"The Taoiseach's objective will be to attempt to explain the range and the variety of issues raised on the 'No' side in the referendum.

And we need a significant amount of time simply to get through this.

"The least helpful thing would be to impose some arbitrary timescale," a government source told the Irish Independent.

However, Mr Cowen's play for more time may be greeted with growing impatience as the fallout from Ireland's 'No' vote continues to divide opinion across Europe.

The Government's view is that it is far too early to rule in or out any options. They quite literally don't know what the answers are going to be and how long it will take.

Mr Cowen will ask to be given time to consult -- both at home and abroad -- on the outcome of the referendum.

There is a growing feeling within European circles that a binding document will be put together, giving Ireland assurances on the issues of abortion, corporation tax and neutrality. This would then be combined with the original treaty and put to a new referendum in this country. There may also be some movement on the allocation of European commissioners, to assuage the Irish voters' fears on this matter.

Although the Government is not ruling out a second referendum, it is still insisting the present scenario is different to the Nice Treaty referendum in 2002, which was put to the people a second time.

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The Irish referendum result is the primary item on today's summit agenda. The Taoiseach will give his initial assessment of the outcome and its implications and hear other member states' initial reactions.

Response

Mr Cowen will get a face-to-face response from leaders, including French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel, at the summit.

He will also hold special meetings with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament president Hans-Gert Poettering, and current president of the European Council, Slovenian prime minister Janez Jansa.

Adding to the pressure on Mr Cowen, Mr Poettering says the ratification process must continue.

But writing in today's Irish Independent, Mr Poettering also says he expects to see details of Irish plans.

Meanwhile, the sacking of European Commissioner Charlie McCreevy was demanded over his comments about not reading the Lisbon Treaty.

The leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, of which Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa is a member, called for Mr McCreevy to be removed as Internal Market Commissioner.

Martin Schulz blamed some of the 'No' vote on Mr McCreevy's free market policies and statements about "how no sane people would read the treaty".

Britain last night cleared the final hurdle of the race to complete its ratification of the EU reform treaty.


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