VILNIUS-RIGA - Latvia and Lithuania's parliaments have both ratified the Lisbon Treaty, making them the 12th and 13th countries to approve the historic document that aims to reshape and simplify how the EU works.
The two Baltic states' approval of the treaty came on May 8 and will have to be signed by their presidents, which should take two or three weeks.
In Latvia, the treaty was passed with an overwhelming majority. The vote passed its second reading with 70 MPs in favor and only three against. There was one abstention in the 100-seat Parliament.
In Lithuania, however, the vote was preceded by a heated debate over whether the country was ceding too much power to Brussels at a time when the country needed support for its energy policy.
Only 83 MPs voted in favor of the Lisbon Treaty, a slim majority in the 141-seat legislature. Twenty-three abstained and five voted against. The rest were absent or didn't vote.
Top-ranking EU officials praised the treaty's passage.
"The Treaty of Lisbon certainly represents a solid and relevant basis for further shaping our common European future... Each ratification is an important step forward on the path to the ultimate goal," the Slovenian presidency of the EU said in a statement.
In a statement released May 8, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso thanked Latvia for its overwhelming support of the treaty.
"I would like to congratulate Latvia with its convincing vote in Parliament for ratifying the Lisbon treaty. I would like to thank the Latvian government and parliament for the support to the treaty across the whole political spectrum," the statement said.
In Lithuania, no small amount of bitterness remained after the vote.
Treaty opponents said that by delaying ratification Lithuania could put pressure on the EU to deal with a number of sensitive issues, including the 2009 closure of the Ignalina Soviet-era nuclear power plant.
"We should not hurry to this wedding party because we could sure get a heavy hangover," Farmers' Union MP Viktoras Rimkevicius said.
"Look at the Ignalina issue. I'm sure that an absolute majority of MPs did not read the Lisbon Treaty's text, and they have no idea how much of its sovereignty Lithuania will present to Brussels," Rimkevicius said, referring to the nuclear power plant in Ignalina.
The Farmers' Union is a minority partner in the current center-left coalition.
Supporters of the treaty argued that it could actually help improve energy security for the country, which is currently grappling with fears of increased dependence on Russia for energy supplies once the Ignalina reactor closes at the end of 2009.
"Now the EU of 27 countries needs a renewed structure. It is also important for Lithuania that the principle of solidarity solving energy matters is based in the Lisbon Treaty," said Birute Vesaite, an MP with the ruling Social Democrats.
The reference to EU solidarity in the event of an energy supply problem came into the Lisbon Treaty at the insistence of Lithuania.
Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas took a more philosophical stance toward the Lisbon Treaty, saying that the document was important for the continuation of European integration.
"The Lisbon Treaty is about our values. European civilization is very fragile. Maybe it will cease to exist in 50 years. Other civilizations are more business-orientated and do not care about the values," Vaitiekunas said.
"We need to strengthen our European civilization, which is based on the values of democracy and human rights," he said.
The Lisbon Treaty is meant to replace the Constitutional Treaty, which was shot down by France and the Netherlands in 2005. The Lisbon variant is aimed at amending and consolidating the numerous treaties that make up the European Union in its current form.
The treaty holds many of the same principles of the previous document, including the creation of a powerful foreign minister for Europe and increasing the role of qualified majority voting over unanimous endorsement.
A total of 13 countries have so far ratified the treaty, including Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Slovakia, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovenia, Malta, Romania, France, Lithuania and Latvia.
Ireland will be the only country to hold a referendum, scheduled for June 12, on the treaty. If it fails, or if any countries refuse to ratify the document, then the treaty will be scrapped, and EU officials could be forced to go back to the drawing board.
The 27 EU member states have been asked to ratify the treaty by the end of the year so that it can go into effect before the European Parliament elections in 2009.