Belfast Telegraph

Irish budget approval 'urgent'

Ireland should approve next year's budget as soon as possible, Europe's Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn has urged.

The top EU politician held a confidential briefing with Irish MEPs in Strasbourg who claimed Mr Rehn said the current political and economic crisis was not the time to raise the country's controversial low corporation tax rate.

While the Commissioner welcomed the publication of the four-year roadmap tomorrow, he made it clear he would prefer a swifter 2011 budget launch date than the planned unveiling on December 7.

In Brussels, a Commission spokesman emphasised Mr Rehn's concern and said: "Every day that passes brings more uncertainty.

"But the Irish economy has strong fundamentals, and decisive action should restore robust and sustainable growth, which will safeguard economic and social cohesion."

Mr Rehn met with the 12 Irish MEPs but Socialist Joe Higgins walked out after just a few minutes complaining about the confidential nature of the briefing.

Four MEPs with chief opposition party Fine Gael said Mr Rehn was told Ireland's low 12.5% corporation tax rate was an issue for the Irish Government and parliament. Jim Higgins, Sean Kelly, Mairead McGuinness and Gay Mitchell said Mr Rehn agreed it was not the time to raise the controversial issue.

"The Commissioner has a firm grasp of the fiscal economic and political situation in Ireland and was very supportive of our position," they said in a joint statement.

Once the four-year plan is presented on Wednesday and the Irish budget for 2011 published in a fortnight, the experts scouring the books in Dublin will be looking for a combination of "structural reforms" coupled with "fiscal consolidation" - or budget cuts - as the basis of a recovery programme justifying a bailout accord.

But Mr Rehn's spokesman emphasised: "There are still no figures for a bailout. I keep seeing firm figures in some newspapers, which is surprising as there are no figures, and I think some papers are going to have to make corrections".

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