Czech leader signs Lisbon Treaty, clearing way for stronger E.U.

By Karel Janicek
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

PRAGUE -- A charter meant to transform Europe into a more unified and powerful global player passed its last major hurdle Tuesday and appears set to become law within weeks.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who has been highly skeptical of increasing the European Union's powers, signed the Lisbon Treaty at the Prague Castle hours after his nation's Constitutional Court struck down a complaint that it violated the Czech constitution.

Klaus had been tirelessly attacking and stalling the document, saying it would hand too much power to E.U. institutions in Brussels. He awaited the court's ruling before deciding whether to endorse it. "I expected the decision of the Constitutional Court and respect it," Klaus told reporters Tuesday afternoon, but he added that he vehemently disagrees with the verdict.

"The Czech Republic will cease to be a sovereign state" under the treaty, he said.

Klaus represented the last obstacle to full ratification of the treaty, which was bogged down in negotiations for almost a decade and has been ratified by the 26 other E.U. countries. The charter is to take effect Dec. 1.

European leaders welcomed news of the signing. "President Klaus's decision marks an important and historic step for all of Europe," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in a statement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted during a speech to the U.S. Congress in Washington that, with the new treaty, the E.U. "will become stronger and more capable of acting, and so a strong and reliable partner for the United States." She added: "On this basis, we can build stable partnerships with others, above all with Russia, China and India."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said of Klaus's decision: "This is great news for all Europeans." Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who has worked to seal the Lisbon Treaty under Sweden's E.U. presidency, said he would call for an E.U. summit as soon as possible.

Klaus's "signature ends a far too long period of institutional focus within the EU," Reinfeldt said in a text message sent from Washington. "It opens up for a more democratic, transparent and efficient Union."

Earlier in the day, the Constitutional Court's chief judge, Pavel Rychetsky, said that the Lisbon Treaty "does not violate the [Czech] constitution" and that all formal obstacles for ratification "are removed." In Brussels, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso of Portugal said he was "extremely pleased" with the Czech court's verdict.

"I hope that we can now move forward as quickly as possible on the nomination of the president of the European Council and vice president of the Commission High Representative," he said, referring to the newly created post of president, who will chair E.U. summits, and the bloc's new foreign policy chief, who will represent the bloc abroad.

Once the Lisbon Treaty becomes law, more policy decisions will be permitted by majority rather than unanimous votes at European summits. Those policies would then increasingly be shaped by the elected parliaments of each member nation and the European Parliament, which currently has little say.

E.U. leaders say such new voting rules are needed to promote stronger policies in combating cross-border crime, terrorism and ecological threats.

Projecting this more decisive E.U. abroad would be a new fixed-term president -- in place of a decades-old system that rotates the presidency among governments every six months.

-- Associated Press

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