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EU clears hurdle to Lisbon treaty

Vaclav Klaus in Prague, 9 Oct
Czech President Vaclav Klaus has been holding out on the treaty

EU leaders meeting in Brussels have agreed a deal designed to win Czech backing of the Lisbon Treaty, clearing a major hurdle to its ratification.

The Czechs were granted an opt-out from the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights, similar to that of the UK and Poland.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus was satisfied with the concession, Czech PM Jan Fischer told reporters in Brussels.

But EU leaders failed to agree on funding for a climate change pact to help developing nations.

"The road to ratification stands open," said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency.

'No problem'

The Czech Republic is the only one of the 27 EU nations not to have ratified the treaty, which aims to streamline decision-making and bolster the bloc's role on the world stage.

Jose Manuel Barroso: "Tonight we have removed the last political hurdle"

The BBC's Oana Lungescu in Brussels says Mr Klaus - an ardent Eurosceptic - had feared that without the opt-out, the charter would allow thousands of ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II to reclaim their lands.

"Vaclav Klaus was content with the text. He has been informed about all modifications... and does not have a problem with it," PM Fischer said after EU leaders agreed on the text at a summit.

But there is one final legal hurdle to Prague's ratification - the Czech Constitutional Court is expected to rule next week on whether the treaty complies with the country's constitution.

Presuming the court dismisses the latest challenge to the treaty, the Czech prime minister said his country could ratify the treaty by the year's end.

Blair's chances fading?

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the eight long years of negotiating the treaty reminded him of a "marathon with hurdles".

Gavin Hewitt
Do the majority of leaders want someone who can get a hearing at the White House, or do they want someone who will build consensus within the European Union?
Gavin Hewitt, BBC Europe editor

"Tonight we have removed the last political hurdle," he said.

EU leaders were expected to discuss who will fill the post of president of the European Council - a post created by the Lisbon Treaty.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker have been touted as the leading candidates for the job.

On Thursday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reiterated his support for Mr Blair, saying he would make an "excellent candidate".

But the BBC's Jonny Dymond in Brussels says Mr Blair's chances seemed slimmer than before.

Our correspondent says support from the European Socialist group was not forthcoming, and Downing Street was signalling that defeat was a clear possibility.

Climate woes

On climate change, the EU failed to reach a united position ahead of December's United Nations Copenhagen summit, which aims to hammer out a new global climate treaty to replace the UN Kyoto Protocol.

EU SUMMIT AGENDA
Thursday pm: Climate change
Thursday dinner: Lisbon Treaty
Friday: Conclusions, including economy and illegal immigration

Mr Reinfeldt called on EU leaders to agree a "fixed sum" that would open the way for other rich donors, like the US and Japan, to make similar aid pledges to help developing nations cope with the effects of climate change.

But Polish Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski told the BBC that nine Eastern European nations were prepared to block a deal unless richer countries paid a larger share of the costs.

EU sources said the presidency would present new proposals on Friday, the last day of the summit.

The EU is committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and by up to 30% if other countries join in.

The European Commission has recommended EU nations pay up to 15bn euros ($22bn; £13bn) a year from 2013 to developing nations to help them cope with the effects of climate change.



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