Stronger EU Forged At Lisbon

LISBON -- European Union leaders signed the Treaty of Lisbon on Thursday to reform the bloc's institutions and give it stronger leadership, marking the end of a difficult process that has lasted nearly a decade.

At an elaborate signing ceremony at Lisbon's grandiose Jeronimos Monastery, leaders said the treaty would open a new chapter in EU history by giving it a more robust foreign policy and more democracy in decision making.

The treaty replaces an ambitious constitution that was rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, which threw the EU into crisis at the time.

The bloc's rotating presidencies will end with the new treaty and be replaced in 2009 with a long-term president of the European Council, who will chair summits. The treaty will also create a foreign policy high representative.

It will allow more decisions to be made by majority voting, notably on justice and security issues, and give more say to the European and national parliaments. A charter of fundamental European rights is attached to the treaty.

The signing will start a ratification process by national EU parliaments that leaders hope will avoid the 2005 "No" by French and Dutch voters to the proposed constitution.

This time around, only Ireland is planning a referendum, reducing the risks of an upset, even though polls suggest many Irish voters are undecided or indifferent.