Speaking in Prague on Monday, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said that the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty should not be ‘over-dramatised’. Nor, he said, should the importance of the no-vote be played down. Mr Sarkozy said that it was now up to France, who will be presiding over the EU for the next six months, to face the consequences of the Irish ‘no’ vote. The French president was in Prague on Monday to meet heads of the Visegrad four states. His visit also provided an opportunity to liaise with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, whose government will be taking over the EU presidency from the French at the start of 2009.
Meanwhile, the Czech, Polish, Slovak and Hungarian prime ministers said that they would support Croatia’s bid to join the EU at a meeting in Prague on Monday. Czech prime minister Mirek Topolánek said that he did not want Croatia to become a ‘victim’ of the confusion that the EU has been thrown into after Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty last Thursday. Mr Topolánek’s sentiments were echoed by Polish premier Donald Tusk, who said that the so-called ‘Visegrad four’ (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) should continue to strive towards the enlargement of the EU, even after the Irish vote.
Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg argued against lifting sanctions on Cuba at an EU meeting on Monday, and succeeded in having the decision postponed until a summit of the EU’s 27 member states on Thursday. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, the topic of Cuban sanctions was raised, but then mothballed, with precedence being given to questions about the Lisbon Treaty, which Irish voters rejected last week. Lifting sanctions would put the EU at odds with Washington over its Cuba policy. Former colonial power Spain has long led calls for an end to EU sanctions, but it has met resistance from the EU’s ex-communist members, most notably the Czech Republic.
Education Minister Ondřej Liška has said that he wants a treaty paving the way for a US radar base on Czech soil to be ratified by the Czech Parliament only after the American presidential elections. Mr Liška said that his party, the Greens, would do their ‘utmost’ to postpone the ratification of the treaty until next year at the earliest. According to the education minister, a new American president may not necessarily support plans drafted by the outgoing Bush administration to build an anti-missile defence system in both the Czech Republic and Poland. Mr Liška’s views are at variance with those held by Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, who would like the bilateral treaty to be approved by the Czech Parliament as early as August.
Deputy Prime Minister Jiří Čunek will again be called as a witness in the case of entrepreneurs Roman Vaškůj and Petr Šmiřák, it was revealed on Monday. Mr Čunek had previously refused to testify before the Přerov court hearing the case, but on Monday, the presiding judge insisted that Mr Čunek appear as a witness. Mr Čunek was previously cleared of accepting bribes from Messrs Vaškůj and Šmířak. The leader of the Christian Democratic Party resigned from his government posts over allegations he had taken bribes from the two, but was reinstated after an investigation was dropped.
In related news, a key witness in the Čunek corruption case, Marcela Urbanová, has been charged with providing false testimony against the government minister. Ms Urbanová was formerly Mr Čunek’s secretary when he was mayor of Vsetín back in 2002. She accused Mr Čunek of sexual harassment and of offering her money in exchange for keeping quiet about bribes he was accepting. The case against Mr Čunek was dropped earlier this year. On Monday, the Prague Attorney’s Office said that it was charging Mrs Urbanová with giving false testimony in the case. Mrs Urbanová denies the accusations. If found guilty, she could face a prison sentence of up to ten years.
Czech President Václav Klaus will not be meeting his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy during the latter’s visit to Prague on Monday. In a letter to the French head of state, Mr Klaus made his apologies but cited his current state of health following a recent hip-replacement operation. In the letter, President Klaus extended an invitation to Mr Sarkozy, calling on him to make a formal state visit at a later date. He said that the last such French presidential visit took place over 11 years ago, meaning, he said, it was high time for another French delegation to be received at Prague Castle.
The Czech Republic is interested in buying more works of art from the Liechtenstein collections which formerly decorated the Valtice and Lednice chateaux, the head of the National Heritage Institute has said. According to manager Zdeněk Musil, the heritage institute has asked the Culture Ministry for some seven million crowns (449,000 USD) in order to buy back Old Master paintings previously on display in the chateaux when they go up for auction in London next month. The Czech state has just bought 13 million crowns worth of furniture from the Liechtenstein’s collection in order to refurnish the two chateaux in question. The heritage institute has said that it is interested in a total of 15 paintings.
In business news, the national debt fell in the first quarter of this year by 32.2 billion CZK to just over 860 billion CZK (55 billion USD). According to the Finance Ministry, this represents a debt worth 84,000 CZK per each Czech citizen. The national debt is made up of direct loans from other countries and various European investment banks. In 2007, the national debt actually rose by 90 billion CZK to nearly 900 billion CZK (57.7 billion USD). The Czech Republic has been told to monitor its national debt closely as a step towards euro adoption.
Czech coach Karel Brückner has said that his team ‘collapsed’ in the last 15 minutes of their group A match against Turkey in Geneva on Sunday, putting an end to the Czechs’ Euro 2008 hopes. The Czechs were leading 2:0 until the 75th minute of the game when Turkey scored to get back into the match. According to Brückner, his team were then unable to ‘cope’ with the pressure – an error by goalkeeper Petr Čech allowed Turkish captain Nihat to level the scores three minutes before the end. And then, in the final minute, Nihat scored a second, sealing the Czechs fate. The match was Karel Brückner’s final game in charge - he announced he would be standing down after the European football championships earlier this year. Turkey now join Portugal in the quarter-finals of the competition, where they will play the winners of group B.
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