EU leaders have agreed the ratification process on the Lisbon Treaty will
continue, although the Czech Republic has stalled pending a constitutional
court decision. Lawmakers in the Senate previously petitioned the court to
examine the document’s compatibility with Czech law before the matter
went to a parliamentary vote. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and other
members of the Czech delegation at the EU summit in Brussels made sure a
clause on the Czech situation was noted by the EU on Friday.
The Lisbon Treaty first hit a hurdle in Ireland’s referendum last week, where it was rejected by more than 53 percent of voters. That spurred critics of the document, including Czech President Václav Klaus, to declare it “finished”. EU leaders have since scrambled to save the project, aimed at reforming the functioning of the 27-member union.
In related news, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has expressed the hope that the Lisbon Treaty, which overhauls the EU’s institutions, will be ratified by Prague by the year’s end. Prague takes up the EU presidency for a six-month period on January 1, 2009. But the foreign minister admitted the situation had been complicated through the involvement of the country’s constitutional court. He expressed the hope that a decision might be handed down by the court in the early autumn, so that the Czech parliament could decide on ratification in November.
Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has changed his mind and said he would now bet that the Czech Republic will ratify the Lisbon Treaty, something he said he would not do just one day earlier. The prime minister made the statement on the second and final day of the EU summit in Brussels. The Czech Republic is one of eight EU countries still to ratify the document but the process has been suspended until the constitutional court assesses it's compatibility with Czech law. On Friday Mr Topolánek called the fact the Czech Republic managed to push through a statement in the summit's final resolution (stating Czech ratification depended on the constitutional court's decision) a “success”.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has said that EU policy towards Cuba will be reassessed annually with regards to human rights. He described the move as an active policy approach after the EU agreed to lift sanctions against the Caribbean state. The sanctions were originally agreed in 2003 (then later temporarily suspended) in an attempt to pressure the Cuban regime to improve its record on human rights. The Czech Republic has been strongly against the lifting of sanctions in the past. Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg stressed on Friday that there are more than 200 political prisoners held in appalling conditions in Cuba; he made clear the Czech Republic would continue to push for their release.
A Prague court has ruled that Czech lawyer Jiří Teryngel will remain in custody on the suspicion of tax evasion of more than 100 million crowns. Mr Teryngel's defence made the announcement on Friday saying the court had reached the decision on the grounds the defendant might otherwise try to influence witnesses. In all, four people have been charged in the case. The lawyer, who has maintained his innocence, is well-known in legal circles for involvement in a number of high-profile cases, including the defence of fugitive businessman Tomáš Pitr.
EU Commissioner Vladimír Špidla will launch a European campaign against discrimination at the United Islands of Prague 2008 music festival on Saturday. Within the next four months, an information campaign will visit about 20 cities and towns in ten EU countries. According to the commissioner, who oversees employment, social affairs and equal opportunities in the European Commission, many people throughout Europe remain unaware of the right to live without discrimination regarding age, gender, religion, sexual orientation or ethnic origin. Mr Špidla stressed on Friday that the issues vary across borders: while discrimination over religion is unusual in the Czech Republic, unequal treatment related to age or disability is fairly common. A Eurobarometer survey released earlier in 2008 suggested tat 58 percent of Czechs feel that age-related discrimination is frequent.
Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said the Czech Republic would not
support further ratifications of the Lisbon Treaty. Mr Schwarzenberg told
the Austrian daily Der Standard on Thursday that if the EU summit in
Brussels comes up with such a proposal, the Czech Republic will not support
it. The Czech foreign minister also said that it was very important for all
EU institutions to “resist the temptation” and not pressure countries
which have not yet ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Mr Schwarzenberg is
attending an EU summit looking at ways out of the crisis caused by
Ireland’s rejection of the reform document.
The Czech Republic is one of five EU countries which have not yet began the Lisbon Treaty ratification process. The Constitutional Court is due to rule after the summer on whether the document is in line with the Czech constitution.
Health Minister Tomáš Julínek has decided to divide his health care reform package into several parts that will go to Parliament separately. The Czech Parliament will first vote on drafts on patient and emergency services that might come into force in January 2009. More controversial bills on health insurance and university hospitals, which have been heavily criticized by the opposition and some government MPs, will come later. Minister Julínek also said he wanted to hold further talks with the opposition and professional organisations over the controversial parts of the government’s health care reform.
Some Czech shops have been selling rice with illegal genetic modification, a spokesman for the Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection authority told journalists on Thursday. The rice was packed by a Czech company but it came from an Italian producer that didn’t declare the foodstuff as genetically modified. The importer now has to withdraw nearly 38,000 packs of the GM rice from the Czech market.
The Czech Army will begin testing Pandur armoured personnel carriers. Test of the Austrian made vehicles will start at an army base in Šternberk, Moravia, on Tuesday, and will take several weeks. The Defence Ministry will also start negotiating a new contract with the Austrian arms producer for the purchase of 107 Pandur APCs. In one of the biggest army deals in history, the Czech Army originally wanted to buy almost 200 of the armoured vehicles. The government abrogated the initial contract last year because the Austrian manufacturer did not manage to supply the APCs in time.