Leaders of the Czech political parties meeting with Finance Minister Eduard Janota have apparently agreed on modifications to the minister’s budget package. If effected, the changes will leave the 2010 budget with a slightly increased deficit, though it will remain below 170 billion. Prime Minister Jan Fischer has given that number as one of the conditions his interim government demands if the cabinet is to remain in place until elections. The breakthrough was reached largely through compromises with the left-wing parties that accepted their key parental subsidies issues while forcing them to give up on demands for progressive taxation. Following the Wednesday afternoon meeting most of the party leaders said the package would have their parties’ support provided any further changes remain at a cosmetic level. The budget committee has now recommended that Parliament approve the package and MPs are planning to deal with it on Thursday.
Not everyone outside of the budget debate was entirely pleased by the result, however. State employees’ unions have come out against planned 4% pay cuts for next year. In a statement reported on by the Czech Press Agency the unions called the cuts entirely unacceptable, with teachers’ salaries for example already undervalued. On this issue the unions complained that the government was reneging on a promise to support education as one of the keys to increased competitiveness and social development. The Unions also cited a threat to security standards posed by the risk of a mass exodus among police officers and prison workers. Beyond the 4% wage cut however the unions have called Mr Janota’s budget an acceptable compromise.
The British newspaper the Daily Mail reported Wednesday that British Conservative leader David Cameron indirectly asked Czech President Václav Klaus to delay ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. Citing unnamed sources close to Mr Cameron, the paper says that the Tory leader wrote the president last month in hopes that a long-enough delay on the Czech side would allow the Conservatives to put the treaty to a referendum in Britain if the party wins the spring elections as currently expected. Under such circumstances the pan-EU treaty would face yet another major hurdle, as most pundits fear it would be rejected in a British poll. Mr Klaus has promised to be the very last to sign the Lisbon Treaty even if it is ratified everywhere else; and a group of right-wing senators are preparing to file a complaint against the treaty with the Czech Constitutional Court, which may postpone the process of ratification for up to nine months. The other countries yet to fully ratify the Lisbon Treaty – Ireland, Germany and Poland - are expected to do so in the coming months; the fact that the Czech Republic is behind in the process has sparked criticism from Brussels.
President Klaus on Tuesday disavowed certain remarks published by the US daily Washington Post earlier this week and repeated in the Czech press. Mr Klaus was quoted as saying that regulation in the Czech Republic was greater now than it had been 20 years ago prior to the fall of communism; he says that his actual point was that there is more regulation in the country at present than he would have expected at that time, and that the misquote is damaging to him as a head of state. Mr Klaus is currently in the United States attending the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The government has filed a proposal for the banning of the extreme-right Workers’ Party with the Supreme Administrative Court. The court’s spokesman, Michal Lovritš, said it would deal with the proposal on September 30. The previous government made a proposal to the same end earlier this year, however it was dismissed by the court on the grounds that it was poorly prepared and did not include the necessary evidence. Both the police and the Czech intelligence agency BIS consider the party an extremist organisation of right-wing radicals.
Police in Prague have arrested a 41-year-old Chinese woman sought for ordering the murder of the wife of a well-known journalist. The court will now decide whether to keep the woman in detention and whether she will be extradited to China, where she faces life imprisonment. According to the Czech police spokeswoman, the suspect had a long-term relationship with the man in question before leaving for five years to the Czech Republic. After allegedly making a promise to wait for her, the journalist married another woman, who was murdered in January. The suspect’s involvement was apparently discovered when the murderers themselves were arrested and confessed.
The Constitutional Court has abolished part of a legislative act allowing authorities to revoke the passports of suspects in criminal cases. In its ruling the court stated that the law denies such people the opportunity for revocations to be reviewed judicially. Legislators will now have until the end of next year to modify the act, until which time the travel documents of suspects facing three years of prison or more may be revoked by the police or the courts.
As the Czech Republic prepares for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI at the weekend so a list of splendid gifts from the country’s religious and political figures has taken shape. Cardinal Miroslav Vlk has a mass bowl inscribed with Czech and papal symbols for the pontiff, while President Václav Klaus intends to offer His Holiness with two items made by prestigious Czech manufacturers. The Christian Democratic Party announced that they would be presenting the pope with a truly earthly gift, a rock from a monastery that the communist regime used as a work camp for political prisoners.
Czech President Václav Klaus on Tuesday told the American newspaper Washington Post that he sees the European Union as a greater threat than Russia. Currently in New York for a summit on climate change, Mr Klaus said that while Russia today plays nothing like the role in daily Czech affairs that the Soviet Union did, the EU threatens the ability of the Czech Republic to maintain its identity as a state. This, the president said, was the rationale for his opposition to the Lisbon Treaty, among other integrative processes. The president also criticised the “frustrating” amount of regulation in the Czech Republic at present, saying it was greater now than it had been 20 years ago prior to the fall of communism. The political system in Russia, he said, and freedom in general is currently at its highest point “in the last two millennia”.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout met with his US counterpart Hillary Clinton on Monday. Discussions on the margins of the UN General Assembly centred on what shape relations between the two countries should now take after the US decision last week not to go ahead with its original missile defence plans in the Czech Republic and Poland. Mr Kohout said after the meeting that the two sides had examined civil areas where they could cooperate in the future and gave the example of stepped up Czech participation in US space programmes. Mrs Clinton mentioned broader research and development cooperation. She said on Friday that the two countries are frontrunners for a mobile missile defence system which the US would now like to roll-out in Europe.
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