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Czech Court Lifts Last Legal Obstacle To EU Lisbon Treaty

Czech President Vaclav Klaus

Czech President Vaclav Klaus

(RFE/RL) -- It's been nearly two years since EU leaders signed the Lisbon Treaty to streamline decision-making in the bloc.

After lengthy negotiations, court challenges, and much controversy, the ruling lifting the last legal hurdle to its ratification took just one minute to read.

Amid a flurry of legal language, Czech Constitutional Court Chairman Pavel Rychetsky rejected a challenge by a group of senators. He said the Lisbon Treaty, as a whole, was compatible with the country's constitution.

The ruling ends the treaty's legal -- if not political -- odyssey in the Czech Republic, the last country still to ratify it.

The treaty needs to be ratified by all 27 EU members to come into force.

And so now all attention turns to President Vaclav Klaus to see if, or when, he will add his signature.

A noted Euroskeptic, Klaus argued against the treaty in a previous Constitutional Court challenge last year, saying it ran counter to the principle of Czech sovereignty.

That challenge was struck down, and the treaty was approved by parliament.

Last Hurdle

But last month, after voters in Ireland overwhelmingly approved the pact in a repeat referendum, Klaus added a new demand -- an opt-out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights.

He said he was worried about possible property claims by Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II.

The EU grumbled -- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner accused Klaus of "inventing difficulties" -- but last week agreed to the opt-out, and Klaus said he would not make any new demands.

So now the pressure is on.

The ruling was welcomed by Britain, Germany, and Sweden. And by Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer, who said his government would like the treaty to come into force by the beginning of next year at the latest.

"The way is open now for that, and I'm convinced that the president will now add his signature to the treaty," Fischer said.

And in Brussels, a spokeswoman for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the ruling as "good news."

"Together with the commitments given by all member states to the Czech government at the European Council last week, I believe that no further unnecessary delays should prevent the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty," Barroso's statement said.

Then attention will turn to the changes Lisbon will usher in. Chief among them is who will get the top two EU jobs -- president and foreign-affairs chief.

The first is a new post, replacing the current system where countries take turns at the presidency for six months.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair initially appeared the favorite, but his chances are said to have dimmed in recent weeks.

Other possible contenders include Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, former Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen, and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.

The treaty is also meant to smooth decision-making in a bloc that has almost doubled in size this decade with two waves of enlargement.

The hope is it will give Europe more clout in global affairs.

with agency reports