Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed the European Union's Lisbon Treaty on Tuesday, bringing into life the bloc's plan to overhaul its institutions and win a greater role on the world stage.
The Czech Republic was the last of 27 EU countries to ratify the treaty designed to give the bloc stronger leadership, more effective foreign policy and a fairer decision-making system.
Sweden, the current holder of the EU presidency, said the treaty would come into force on January1.
Here are some of its main points.
* INSTITUTIONS: EU leaders can now choose a president of the European Council for a renewable 2-1/2 year term, replacing the system of 6-month rotating presidencies.
-- A powerful new foreign policy chief, at the head of an EU foreign service, will give the bloc a greater say on the world stage. The High Representative will answer to EU governments but will also be vice-president of the European Commission and manage the EU executive's large external aid budget.
-- The Eurogroup of finance ministers of countries that use the euro will be formalized for the first time and will elect a chairman for a renewable 2-1/2-year term.
-- Member states will benefit from a NATO-style mutual defense clause in the event that one of them is attacked.
-- The European Court of Justice will be given more power by being allowed to rule on whether national legislation on justice and home affairs is compatible with EU laws, except for Britain and Ireland, which secured opt-outs.
-- The European Commission, the EU's executive, will have fewer members from 2014. Each of the EU's 27 nations now appoints a commissioner but the size will be capped at two thirds of the number of member states.
-- The number of seats in the European Parliament will be increased to 751 from 736.
* VOTING: EU decision-making will continue to be based on weighted voting as agreed in the 2000 Nice Treaty until 2014.
-- After that, voting will be based on a "double majority" system requiring 55 percent of member states representing 65 percent of the EU population to pass a decision.
-- From 2014 to 2017 any country can ask to revert to the old rules in any vote. States just short of a blocking minority may invoke a mechanism to delay EU decisions for several months.
-- The treaty allows decision-making in more policy areas by majority voting, notably in justice and home affairs. Foreign and defense policy, tax matters and EU budget and revenue decisions will continue to require unanimity.
-- Britain and Ireland won the right to opt out of closer police and justice cooperation, but not to stop other member states moving ahead without them.
-- National parliaments will be given a say in drafting EU laws. They will review draft proposals, and if one third of them reject it, the European Commission will have to change it.
* CITIZENS' RIGHTS: The treaty gives binding force to an existing Charter of Fundamental Rights in all member states except Britain and Poland, which won opt-outs.
-- Britain did not want provisions such as a broadly defined right to strike, the subject of bitter labor conflicts in the 1980s -- to be imposed on it from outside.
-- Poland's previous right-wing government said it would respect labor provisions, but it needed exemptions to ensure that in the future the EU does not force it to change its laws on family and morality, such as on abortion.
* POLICIES: The treaty introduces as objectives a common energy policy and fighting climate change.
-- The treaty introduces a formal possibility for a country to leave the EU under negotiated terms.
-- One million EU citizens may ask the European Commission in a petition to draft legislation in a given area.
* SECURITY: The EU will get an extended capacity to act on freedom, security and justice, aimed at strengthening its ability to fight crime and terrorism.
-- New provisions on civil protection, humanitarian aid and public health aim at boosting the EU's ability to respond to threats to the security of European citizens.
-- The treaty also provides that the EU and member states react jointly to any attack or a natural or man-made disaster.
Sources: Reuters/EU website http:/europa.eu/lisbon_treaty