The senior opposition Civic Democrats have called on the government to start a new round of debates on a Czech candidate to the European Commission. The Civic Democrats said they considered the situation harmful to the Czech Republic's international reputation. They also criticised the government for pushing Mr. Kuzvart as the country's candidate without a broader political support. The Civic Democrats had proposed former environment minister Bedrich Moldan as a candidate and said they were willing to start discussing a generally acceptable compromise.
The Czech Republic's candidate for EU commissioner, Social Democrat MP Milos Kuzvart officially announced on Friday he was no longer interested in the post. Mr. Kuzvart said he was giving up the candidacy because he did not feel sufficient support from the government. Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda criticised the ruling Social Democrats for having chosen Mr. Kuzvart despite disapproval of the other two coalition partners.
Czech President Vaclav Klaus signed a new law on Friday reducing the road tax for environment-friendly trucks. The law will reduce costs for transport companies who have had to cope with higher excise tax on diesel and more expensive highway stickers since the beginning of this year. The law cuts road tax by 66 per cent for trucks complying with the Euro 3 standard and by 60 per cent for older trucks meeting the Euro 2 standard. Last autumn, transport firms threatened to stage protests over growing costs, but in the end, they agreed with the government on compensation in the form of a lower road tax.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has spoken in favour of sending NATO troops to Iraq. In an interview with the DPA press agency before his visit to Germany on Tuesday, Mr. Spidla said a quick deployment of a large NATO contingent was desirable in order to stabilise Iraq, which is vital for Europe and the whole region. In his opinion, building a secure Iraq will take several years. Mr. Spidla is to visit Berlin this week to discuss mainly financial perspectives of enlarged EU. He stressed that Prague was willing to compromise regarding the EU constitution provided balance is maintained between small and large nations.
Supporters of former Social Democrat leader and Prime Minister Milos Zeman have failed with their attempt to bring him back to the political limelight at a Social Democrat meeting at the weekend. The party voted down a proposal from a rebel faction to re-institute Mr. Zeman to high party circles. Milos Zeman stood behind the Social Democrats' election victory in 1998 but retired from politics completely after his term in office expired in 2002. Lately, he has been a vocal critic of the ruling party's policies and has called for a change of the leadership.
Owners of apartment buildings have warned they would appeal to the Constitutional Court again if the Parliament approves a government-sponsored bill on rent deregulation. Under the controversial plan, which is facing the final reading in the next few days, regulated rents would be increased by 10 percent three years in a row. Critics argue that the regulation breeds black housing market, and that controlled rents do not cover maintenance costs and in fact force owners to sponsor tenants. The Constitutional Court has repeatedly ruled that rent regulation was unconstitutional but the two latest governments led by the Social Democrats have ignored the verdicts.
The Dutch Prime Minister Peter Balkenende is to visit Prague on Monday, just two days after his country severely restricted access to its labour market by citizens from new EU member states. He is to meet his Czech counterpart Vladimir Spidla, as well as president Vaclav Klaus and heads of both houses of the Czech Parliament. It is expected that the Czech representatives will bring up the issue of free movement of labour. Until recently, the Netherlands was one of the few EU countries that did not want to limit employment of workers from the ten accession countries. However, on Friday, the Hague government approved restrictions, including a ban on employing people from the new member states in areas with high unemployment. Elsewhere, they could be employed only if there is no suitable Dutch candidate.
The special police unit for fighting corruption and economic crime have arrested a man suspected of illegal imports of fuels to the Czech Republic. The man allegedly smuggled over 200 truckloads of fuels to the country over the past six months using forged documents. The police said the damage amounts to over a 100 million crowns in unpaid customs duty.
The head of the Finnish parliament and the Social Democratic Party of Finland, Paavo Lipponen, visited the Czech Republic on Saturday. He came mainly to express support to the ruling Czech Social Democrats before elections to the European Parliament due to take place later this year. Mr. Lipponen, who is seen as a potential new chairman of the European Commission, spoke about the need to reform European economy and to implement a social and development model based on internal solidarity. He also called on small countries to defend their interests within the EU rather than wait for support from traditional stronger allies.
The Czech Centre in New York has opened an exhibition of manuscripts of Czech composer Antonin Dvorak on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his death. Dvorak lived in the United States between 1892 and 1895, mostly in New York. During that period, he composed his world-famous symphony From the New World. The celebrations of the Dvorak anniversary will culminate in March with a concert by the Czech Philharmonic in the Carnegie Hall and a performance of Dvorak's opera "Rusalka" in May.