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Europe

EU Set for "Crisis Management" Summit

EU leaders meeting in Brussels this week have lots on their plate with a financial crisis raging, soured relations with Russia, and questions about the bloc's future after Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty.

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The issue of financial recovery is expected to dominate the summit

At the top of the agenda in Brussels will be the issue of how the EU can work to restore confidence in financial markets traumatized by the worst declines in almost 80 years.

Ahead of the summit, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said that Europe and the rest of the world must rethink financial regulation and supervisory rules, including for hedge funds and private equity, once the crisis subsides.

He said he was encouraged by stock market surges following Sunday's adoption of a coordinated 2.2 trillion euro ($3,023 billion) rescue plan for banks in eurozone countries.

"Once we have put financial markets back on their feet, we must ensure that in the future, they function properly for the benefit of citizens and businesses, rather than themselves," Barroso said.

German news agency DPA has reported that diplomats expect the EU summit to throw its weight behind the euro-group decision rather than proposing new measures.

Mending ties with Russia

The second crisis on the EU's agenda? Whether or not it should re-open talks with Russia on a key strategic partnership which were frozen in the wake of the summer's Russian-Georgian war.

At an emergency summit on Sept. 1, leaders agreed there would be no further talks "until troops have withdrawn to the positions held prior to Aug. 7," the day that fighting began.

Russia withdrew from "buffer zones" outside Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on Oct. 9, but has more than doubled its troop presence in the regions, occupying formerly Georgian-held positions there. This has left EU states at odds over whether conditions for restarting the talks have been fulfilled.

"For me, it's clear that we have to start the negotiations because the spirit of the agreement has been fulfilled," said Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

But Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt disagreed.

"If you look at the maps, (the Russians) are not back to the positions they held prior to Aug. 7," he said.

Ireland to report on Lisbon Treaty

Finally, the summit is set to hear a report from the Irish government on the country's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in a referendum on June 12. The "No" vote threw the bloc into institutional panic as the treaty cannot come into effect without being ratified by every member.

Eurosceptic members of the European Parliament display posters calling on the EU to respect the outcome of Ireland's recent referendum vote

The summit will give Ireland another chance to express itself

The Lisbon Treaty is meant to streamline the EU's institutions and increase efficiency and transparency to voters. But in Ireland, many voters reported feeling confused and poorly informed about the consequences of the referendum. There were fears that voting "Yes" to the treaty would lead to Ireland's arm being twisted on such sensitive issues as military neutrality and abortion rights.

Ahead of the summit, European Commission Vice President Margot Wallstroem told the Irish Times that she has warned member states not to push Ireland into a decision about whether to hold a second referendum.

"The Irish should not be forced or pushed or pressed into taking a decision that they don't feel ready for," she said.

She added that rumors that EU politicians would move ahead without Ireland were "unrealistic."

"There might be those who will want to go ahead on their own, but I think it is totally unrealistic," Wallstroem said. "Nobody wants to see Ireland out of the EU and that is certainly not the wish of the Irish people."

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