EU exec says Irish 2011 budget key to EU/IMF aid plan.

The adoption of the Irish 4-year austerity program and the 2011 budget in particular is key for the EU/IMF financial support program for Dublin now under negotiations, the European Commission said on Tuesday.

"The 4-year plan and the 2011 budget are fundamental elements in the current discussions," Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj told a regular news briefing. "It is very important that this budget is passed in parliament."

Ireland's government was on a knife-edge on Tuesday with Prime Minister Brian Cowen challenging the opposition to let an austerity budget pass and trigger an EU/IMF bailout before early elections.

Amid public fury over the way he handled the rescue, Irish media said Cowen may face calls to resign immediately or turn over leadership of his Fianna Fail party before the next election at a meeting of party lawmakers later on Tuesday.

The prime minister defied calls to quit on Monday, saying the national interest required that he press on to unveil a promised 4-year austerity package on Wednesday, and a 2011 budget on December 7 before calling an early election.

[Source: Reuters, Dublin, 23Nov10]

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