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Czech Court Opens EU Lisbon Treaty Hearing

Czech President Vaclav Klaus

Czech President Vaclav Klaus

BRNO, Czech Republic (Reuters) -- The Czech Constitutional Court has opened a hearing that may remove one of the last remaining obstacles to the ratification of the European Union's reform treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty aims to give the bloc of nearly 500 million people a bigger say on the world stage by streamlining how it makes decisions and creating the post of a long-term president to speak for the union.

The Czech Republic is the only country in the 27-member union not to have ratified the treaty.

The court opened the hearing on a complaint against the treaty filed by a group of members of the Czech upper house, the Senate, who are loyal to euroskeptic President Vaclav Klaus and see the treaty as an infringement of Czech sovereignty.

Before the hearing, one of the rightist senators, Jiri Oberfalzer, said the group was not planning another complaint if the court ruled against them.

"We really do not have any other complaint in our pockets," he told Czech Television.

"We tried to exhaust every point that remained in the treaty as disputable, so we are preparing nothing else."

Most lawyers expect the court to rule that the treaty adheres to the Czech Constitution. It has already rejected one challenge against the document made last year.

Such a decision would allow Klaus to sign the treaty and thus complete the ratification process in the Czech Republic and the entire union.

Klaus, however, has also demanded an opt-out from a charter of rights attached to the treaty before he signs, a condition to be discussed by EU leaders at a summit on October 29-30.

The court has not said when it will deliver its final ruling. Prime Minister Jan Fischer said on October 26 he expected the verdict would not come on October 27.

In the past, the court has often ruled either on the day of the hearing or soon after. But it may call further hearings and has no time limit to make a decision.