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Lisbon Treaty in sight for EU after Czechs agree

Czech president Vaclav Klaus has agreed to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.
Czech president Vaclav Klaus has agreed to ratify the Lisbon Treaty.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ratification of Lisbon Treaty in sight after Czech Republic president agrees ratification
  • Possible legal challenge to decision by Czech Constitutional Court remains the only hurdle
  • Lisbon Treaty set to replace the EU constitution, which voters in two countries rejected in 2005
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(CNN) -- The European Union was days away Friday from ratification of the Lisbon Treaty after the president of the Czech Republic -- the remaining holdout in negotiations -- agreed to ratify it.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus agreed to sign the document after winning an exemption Thursday night ensuring the Lisbon Treaty does not allow ethnic Germans forced out of the country after World War II to reclaim their former land.

Only one more hurdle remains: The Czech Constitutional Court is considering a legal challenge from Czech senators to the treaty, but it was widely expected that the court would reject it.

"If they decide that this is not in conflict with the Czech constitution, Klaus has said he will sign the treaty -- and if he does that in the month of November, it will come into force on the first of December," said Minna Fryden Bonnier, a spokeswoman for the Swedish presidency of the EU.

Poland and Britain have also won their own exemptions to Lisbon. In Poland's case, it recently won an opt-out over social issues including gay marriage; Britain won assurances that EU law would not prevail over its own legal system.

The Lisbon Treaty is meant to replace the EU constitution, which voters in two countries rejected in 2005. It would streamline the workings of the EU, creating an EU president and foreign minister and introducing rotating representatives for member countries in the EU Commission, the union's executive branch.

It would also give national parliaments veto power over some proposed changes to EU policy and would change the voting weights of countries on certain issues.

"It is very pleasing that we can now move forward," said Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt.

Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU Commission, also expressed relief that the Czechs had agreed.

"It has been hard work getting everyone to agree, but tonight we have cleared the last political hurdle," Barroso said. "This is a very important agreement."

All member states have to ratify the treaty before it can be adopted.

Irish voters approved the treaty this month after previously rejecting it. The European Union had assured Ireland that the treaty would not affect the country's anti-abortion laws or its neutrality and that Ireland would keep a European commissioner.

The focus of the two-day summit now turns to the issue of climate change, which EU leaders want to discuss before the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, next month.

But the buzz Friday was about who might become the European Union's first president.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced he was supporting his predecessor, Tony Blair, as the man for the job. Several EU leaders interviewed at the summit said they would oppose Blair, specifically because of his support for the Iraq war and because Britain did not sign up to the euro currency.

Others at the summit said it is too early to discuss the presidency.

"The job description is not even set yet, so it's hard to discuss names right now," said Bonnier.