Auteur: | By Honor Mahony and Jurgita Žemaitytė
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Lithuania has become the first country in the European Union to ratify the European Constitution - just under two weeks after the document was formally signed.
The small Baltic state, which joined the EU on 1 May, ratified the document via its parliament - the Seimas - by an overwhelming majority on Thursday (11 November).
Eighty-four voted in favour of the Constitution with four against and three abstentions.
Ratification came on the last day of the current Seimas which is being dissolved following the recent general elections.
"This parliament wanted to do it because they were very much involved in the process via the Convention [which drew up the text]", said a Lithuanian diplomat in Brussels.
The European Commission welcomed Vilnius' news saying "it is a very positive development indeed".
Before Thursday's ratification there had been some discussion about whether to have a referendum on the issue.
However, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said recently that Lithuanians already voted on accession to the EU and there is no need for the Constitution to be approved by citizens.
Pipped to the post
Lithuania's news has also pulled the carpet somewhat from underneath the European Parliament's feet - it had expected to be the first parliament in Europe to ratify the Constitution in December.
Similarly, Italy was expecting to be the first of the member states to ratify the Treaty via its parliament.
Foreign minister Franco Frattini said last month "We seek to be the first to ratify it... at the latest it will be a Christmas present".
Although officials in Brussels are relieved that the first ratification is out of the way and that it is in favour of the Constitution - it is clear that it is only the first step along a lengthy ratification road.
All 25 member states have to ratify the Constitution - either via their parliaments or via referendum - before the document can come into force.
In countries such as the UK, there is high chance that their planned referendum will result in a no vote.
So far, eleven countries have said they will ratify by referendum - the first country set to do so is Spain on 20 February.