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By Jana Mlcochova
PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed the EU's Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday, removing the last barrier to the bloc's plan to overhaul its institutions and win a bigger role on the world stage.
Klaus was the last EU leader to ratify the treaty and his signature means the bloc of nearly half a billion people can now focus on picking its first president and a more powerful foreign representative to speak for it on global affairs.
The treaty, with roots in the failed European Constitution rejected by voters in two member states in 2005, is aimed at making the European Union more flexible and a stronger player on the world scene, to match the rise of emerging powers like China.
The staunchly eurosceptic Czech president signed the pact after the country's Constitutional Court had thrown out a complaint against it earlier in the day.
"I had expected the court ruling and I respect it, although I fundamentally disagree with its content and justification," Klaus told reporters. "I signed the Lisbon Treaty today at 1500 (local time)."
The Swedish EU presidency said the treaty would take effect in December, turning attention to the choice of the bloc's first president.
Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt said he would call an EU summit to discuss possible appointments under the treaty.
RAPID CHOICE OF PRESIDENT
European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek told Reuters Klaus's signing was "great news." Governments should now get on with nominations for the new posts as quickly as possible, he said.
EU leaders failed to agree at a summit last week in Brussels on who should hold the new EU presidency, a post whose powers are still somewhat unclear.
The chances of once-favoured Tony Blair, the former prime minister, seem doomed after he failed to win the backing of the European Socialists, his Labour Party's allies.
No front-runner has emerged, but possible contenders include Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, former Finnish prime minister Paavo Lipponen and Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker.
The Czech president had been banned by law from signing the treaty until the Constitutional Court had ruled on a complaint by his allies in the Czech upper house, the Senate, who argued the treaty would erode national sovereignty.
The court rejected the arguments. "The judgement was unanimous; none of the judges filed a dissenting opinion to either the judgement or its reasoning," the court said in a written verdict.
The Czech parliament has approved the pact but Klaus long argued against it, saying it would turn the bloc into a superstate with little democratic control.
"With the Lisbon Treaty taking effect, the Czech Republic will cease to be a sovereign state, despite the political opinion of the Constitutional Court," Klaus said.
He had said he would raise no further obstacles after EU leaders agreed last week to give the Czechs an opt-out from a rights charter attached to the treaty. Klaus says this was necessary to avoid property claims by Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War Two.
"President Klaus' decision marks an important and historic step for all of Europe," Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.
"Today is a day when Europe looks forward, when it sets aside years of debate on its institutions, and moves to take strong and collective action on the issues that matter most to European citizens: security, climate change, jobs and growth."