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Cowen's farewell at crunch EU talks

BRIAN Cowen jetted out to meet Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, David Cameron and other European leaders for possibly the final time today.

In one of his last acts as Taoiseach, Mr Cowen is representing Ireland at a series of tough talks about the financial crisis in Europe.

The European Council meeting came as the IMF announced that it would be back in Dublin after the February 25 election.

In a statement today, the Fund warned that a mission would visit to discuss the status of the €85bn bailout and to review our performance.

IMF spokeswoman Caroline Atkinson said: "The basic fiscal framework will of course be something that will be discussed, one of the key elements of the programme."

Commentators noted today that Mr Cowen's hand will be limited at the EU talks.

A spokesperson for the Taoiseach said the gathering "will consider economic issues and the euro, and will take stock of progress made since December on a range of initiatives". These include the Commission's legislative proposals on economic governance, a review of the operation of the European Financial Stability Facility and development of the European Stability Mechanism, with a view to a comprehensive package being considered by March 7.

The European Council meeting comes as officials in Germany warned Fine Gael and Labour about their election promises.

European Central Bank boss Jean Claude Trichet has sternly rejected claims that a new government can secure a better bailout deal.


He said that it was "absolutely essential" that Ireland sticks to the agreed plan which includes a crippling 5.8pc interest rate.

The comments were quickly shot down by both parties who say it is up to political leaders and not the ECB to negotiate the terms.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said: "That's why it is so important that the Irish people give us a mandate. It's either Frankfurt's way or Labour's way."

EU chiefs will also discuss the situation in Egypt.