The upper house of the Czech parliament Wednesday approved the European Union's Lisbon treaty by a convincing majority. That will put the long-awaited institutional reforms in the 27-nation bloc into effect on January 1, 2010.

The Lisbon treaty aims to streamline the EU’s decision-making procedures to take account of the EU’s enlargement over the past five years from a mainly western European group of 15 countries to a bloc of 27 countries whose borders stretch from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea.

The EU leaders have been invested the best part of 10 years in trying to redesign the EU's decision-making procedures in a way that satisfies everyone.

This is very good news, said Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president. “The vote reflects the Czech Republic's commitment to a more democratic, accountable, effective and coherent European Union.

The treaty establishes the EU’s first full-time president, broadens the role of its foreign policy chief and sets up a European diplomatic service. It also formalizes the role of the “eurogroup”, which unites the eurozone’s 16 finance ministers, and gives the European parliament the right to co-write laws with national governments in almost all areas of EU activity.

The treaty still needs the signature of Vaclav Klaus, the Czech head of stare, who is a fierce critic of Lisbon, but Czech politicians said the president's limited powers under the nation's constitution meant that he would have to sign the document sooner rather than later.

Czech senators passed the treaty partly because of a sense that it would redeem the country in the eyes of other EU member-states, which have often voiced sharp criticism of the Czech Republic for the way that it has run the EU since January.

The chief obstacle to the treaty now lies five months ahead in the form of an Irish referendum, expected in October that must be held if Lisbon is to secure the necessary approval from all EU member-states. Irish voters rejected the treaty in a referendum in June 2008.