Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern met with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in the Irish capital Dublin Thursday and asked him to confirm unequivocally that the Lisbon Treaty will secure Ireland's veto in tax issues, national broadcaster RTE reported. ( dpa )
Before Barroso's arrival, Ahern said he would request that the head of the European Union's executive arm confirm that decisions on taxation within the bloc be unanimous and that any country can exercise a veto.
Recent comments by French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde about fixing a common corporate tax policy across the union have struck fear in Irish hearts: much of the Celtic Tiger's success at attracting investment has been due to its low 12.5-per-cent corporate tax rate.
Ireland is to hold a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty aimed at streamlining EU decision-making in June, the only one of 27 EU members to do so.
"The eyes of Europe, if not the world, will be on Ireland in the run up to June 12," Barroso said.
"The treaty will greatly simplify the voice and even the face of the EU for the rest of the world," he said, adding that the treaty would not affect Ireland's neutrality.
Addressing the National Forum on Europe, a public debating forum on the EU, in Dublin, Barroso said a world trade deal would benefit Ireland: "A balanced deal will bring huge benefits to Europe in the area of goods and services and ensure that we deliver on our commitment to giving the developing countries a greater stake in the international trading system."
He acknowledged the concerns of Irish farmers about World Trade Organization talks but said that Ireland was "already well positioned in the quality end of the beef market."
More than 10,000 farmers from all over Ireland held a march in Dublin Thursday to protest proposals they say threaten Irish agriculture.
Farmers are incensed at the stance taken by EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson in the present round of negotiations to liberalize rules on world trade which they claim would decimate the domestic livestock industry and impose cuts in dairy, grain and other sectors.
The cuts could lead to a loss of 50,000 jobs across rural Ireland and 100,000 farmers being made redundant, the Irish Farmers' Association says.
The farmers gathered at Leinster House (in which the Irish parliament is located) and marched to the government buildings of Dublin Castle where Barroso was addressing the forum on Europe.
It is feared that many Irish farmers will vote no to the Lisbon Treaty if a WTO deal is not to their liking.