WARSAW - Polish President Lech Kaczynski signed the European Union's reform treaty into law on Saturday, leaving the Czech Republic as the only country still to ratify the document.
The Lisbon Treaty is designed to streamline decision-making and give the 27-nation bloc a long-term president and a stronger foreign policy chief. It can only take effect when all member states have approved it.
Only (Czech) President Vaclav Klaus' signature is missing. Europe eagerly awaits this to happen, Europe needs no more delays, said Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who attended the televised signing ceremony in Poland's presidential palace.
Klaus set out his terms on Friday for signing the treaty, demanding an exemption to protect Prague from post-war property claims and safeguard the sovereignty of the judiciary.
The Czech parliament has approved the document but the president must sign international treaties.
Poland and Britain have won opt-outs on the application of some of the provisions of a Charter of Fundamental Rights which will be given binding force when the Lisbon Treaty is ratified.
Asked if Klaus' objections were a threat to the treaty, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said: No, this is not a threat to the treaty. I am sure the treaty will be ratified soon and that it will have all the elements inside to move on soon.
STRONGER, MORE EFFICIENT
France and Italy welcomed Kaczynski's signature.
The treaty has now been ratified by 26 member states, so we are very close to our goal. It must take effect by the end of the year for Europe to become stronger and more efficient, a statement from Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said.
This 26th ratification marks a new step that brings us closer still to the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which we hope will be as quick as possible, before the end of the year as committed to by the 27 (members), said France's foreign and European ministers in a joint statement.
The president of the European Parliament, former Polish prime minister Jerzy Buzek, also told guests at Saturday's ceremony he was confident the treaty would go into force before the end of the year.
Before signing the document, Kaczynski, a eurosceptic conservative, stressed the EU remained a union of sovereign nations and said it must remain open to new members, including countries in the Balkans and Georgia.
The EU remains a union of nation states, a strict union, and let it remain so ... Within a union of sovereign states we will achieve increasing successes, Kaczynski said.
We now have 27 member states. I am deeply convinced this is not the end... The EU, a successful experiment without precedent in human history, cannot be closed to those who wish to join ... not only in the Balkans but also countries like Georgia.
Poland, which joined the EU in 2004, also strongly supports its eastern neighbor Ukraine's long-term bid to join the bloc.
Kaczynski had refused to sign the treaty, which Poland's parliament approved last year, until Irish voters backed it in a referendum. Ireland overwhelmingly approved it on October 2.
(Writing by Gareth Jones, Editing by Janet Lawrence)