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Cowen battles to scupper euro poll

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen has gone head to head with Germany in a bid to prevent changing the rules of the euro.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been calling for the EU treaties to be reopened to rewrite the rules.

She has insisted that any bailout loan to Greece will only be provided if member states make changes to the legal position of the union in relation to the euro.

But Brian Cowen is hoping to avoid having to call a new referendum in Ireland to change the rules of the euro for the bailout package.

If Greece has to turn to the bailout package, it will lead to closer economic co-ordination and surveillance among member states.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called explicitly for an agreement at the summit which would mean that other countries in the eurozone would have to be prepared to take on financial risk.

Mr Barroso has indicated that the EU executive will make proposals along these lines in the coming weeks, drawing from new powers enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty.

Ms Merkel said that treaty changes would be required to concrete the requirement for increased surveillance.

But while the Taoiseach did not to say directly whether Ireland would become a lender to Greece, he laid down strict conditions in the event it comes to that.

Greece should pay a premium over the interest rate at which countries lending to it borrow, he said. And he wants to avoid another referendum following the Lisbon debacle.

After weeks of public argument over whether and how to help Greece, Ms Merkel signalled she would accept a contingency plan provided the IMF was involved and EU partners agreed to toughen the eurozone's budget deficit rules.

The deal, reached earlier by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Ms Merkel, is intended to reassure nervous financial markets and arrest a crippling rise in Greece's borrowing costs after a debt crisis that has shaken confidence in the euro.