A defiant Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen vowed Wednesday to push through Europe's toughest slash-and-tax budget in the face of voter fury, then defy the odds to win re-election despite a debt disaster that has shaken the entire eurozone.
Cowen mounted a vigorous defense of his embattled leadership a day after lawmakers narrowly backed a 2011 budget containing €6 billion ($8 billion) in cuts and tax hikes that will take an estimated €3,000 ($4,000) per year out of average Irish households.
The unprecedented scale of the budget-tightening was a key condition for Ireland's recent agreement of a €67.5 billion ($90 billion) EU-IMF rescue fund to help Ireland cover its European-leading deficit and revive its debt-struck banks. The Irish were forced to take aid after its two-year struggle to prevent the collapse of Dublin banks proved impossible to finance on their own.
Cowen — whose public approval ratings have recently fallen to a record-low 8 percent — insisted he wouldn't resign, as many lawmakers have expected, and instead would lead his party into an early spring election. All recent polls suggest Cowen's long-ruling Fianna Fail party faces decimation in any national test.