Poland signs Lisbon Treaty, Czechs last to hold out

Polish President Lech Kaczynski (photo) has ratified the EU Lisbon Treaty, leaving the Czech Republic as the only country yet to sign. The Czech president has demanded changes to the text despite mounting pressure at home and abroad.


AFP - Poland's President Lech Kaczynski signed the European Union's reforming Lisbon Treaty in a ceremony Saturday, leaving his ultra-eurosceptic Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus as the only holdout.

"The fact that the Irish people changed their minds meant the revival of the treaty, and there are no longer any obstacles to its ratification," Kaczynski said before inking the text.

"Today is a very important day in the history of Poland and the European Union," he added, as senior EU leaders looked on.

Among those at the ceremony were European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, European Parliament speaker Jerzy Buzek, who is Polish, and Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

The treaty aims to streamline the running of the EU, which has nearly doubled in size in the past five years as a swathe of ex-communist countries such as Poland have joined.

The text -- which notably creates a new full-time president and foreign minister for the EU -- has to be approved by all 27 member states in order to come into force.

Polish lawmakers ratified the treaty in April 2008, but the eurosceptic Kaczynski refused to complete the process in the wake of Irish voters' rejection of the text in a referendum that June.

Kaczynski repeatedly said that Poland did not want to block the treaty as such, but that he would wait until the Irish approved it, which they did on October 2 in a second referendum.

He had argued that the EU's big member states should not lay down the law for small countries like Ireland. Poland, which joined in 2004, has a population of 38 million, placing it among the bloc's heavyweights.

Klaus, a staunch eurosceptic who refuses to fly the EU flag at his residence, is now the last brake on ratification.

He has repeatedly refused to sign the treaty, and on Friday imposed a new condition, seeking an opt-out on a key element.

The Czech Republic, which also joined in 2004, must have "an exception," said Klaus. Otherwise, he warned, the Charter of Fundamental Rights in the treaty will make it possible "to bypass Czech courts and enforce the property claims of people expelled after World War II at the European Court of Justice."

Even if his condition is met rapidly, Klaus would not be able to sign the treaty at once, since the top Czech court banned him from ratification while it considers a plea from eurosceptic members of parliament that it may be  unconstitutional.

The verdict of the Constitutional Court is expected to take at least two weeks.

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