The Czech Senate has approved government-sponsored legislation to locate a US anti-missile radar base in the Czech Republic. 49 out of 81 present senators approved the plans – an outcome, which was largely expected. All Social Democrat and Communist senators voted against the base, but were not joined by any members from other parties. A last-minute Social Democrat attempt to postpone the vote was also unsuccessful. Despite this step, an upcoming and as yet unscheduled vote in the Lower House is likely to be far more contentious, with the opposition parties requiring only one stray MP for the legislation to fail. The government has already signed an agreement with the US government with regards to the base, but cannot go forward without parliamentary approval. Opinion polls have consistently suggested that most Czechs are against the American radar base, which would be part of a global anti-missile defence shield.
Lively discussions are underway with regards to the creation of a new Eurosceptic political party, reports the daily Lidové Noviny. According to the paper, the new party could be ready to field candidates in elections to the European Parliament next June. The party would reportedly be comprised of allies and supporters of the Czech president Václav Klaus, and would be called Libertas.cz. This name would effectively make the party a wing of the Irish lobby group of the same name that campaigned successfully for a “no” vote in a referendum in June on whether to accept the Lisbon Treaty. The Civic Democrat-led Czech government supports the treaty and would like to see it passed during its upcoming EU presidency. Speaking to Lidové Noviny, the Civic Democrat leader and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek conceded that the formation of such a party – essentially a Civic Democrat splinter faction, was inevitable. The Civic Democrats were formed by President Klaus, who is the party’s honorary chairman.
The details of a private conversation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek have been published in the Czech magazine Reflex. Among the more controversial statements contained in the conversation is one in which Mr Sarkozy laments that he is “…alone against all Arabs. To have them on the phone? They are terrible, I swear.” Mr Sarkozy was referring specifically to a request for the Czech Republic to relinquish its automatic control of the French-founded Union for the Mediterranean, which Mr Sarkozy initiated in July 2008. The pact unites EU members with other Mediterranean countries, including those in Africa – EU president countries automatically assume control – something which President Sarkozy wanted to persuade the Czech Prime Minister to do. On Wednesday, Mr Topolánek heeded this request, acknowledging the French-centred role in this grouping. The leak is likely to prove embarrassing to the Czech government.
A television report by the international news channel Al-Jazeera has cast a critical eye over the experiences of many Roma in the Czech Republic. In a report on its English-language network that lasted for more than three minutes, the area of Beroun, just west of Prague, came under the spotlight. The report alleged that Roma children with no discernible handicaps were nonetheless being sent to so-called special schools, and that this practice was undertaken to ensure the continued segregation of whites and Roma. The report concluded by reflecting that education was the likeliest and strongest path out of poverty for many Roma. An Education Ministry representative was interviewed in the report and conceded that there were problems – he pointed to a bill being prepared by the government to address the issue school segregation, but conceded that attitudes in the government often reflect those found among the non-Roma Czech public.
The Czech Republic has announced that it will help Vietnam clean up poisonous dioxins in the country left over from the era of the Vietnam War. According to the Czech Development Agency, Czech specialists will begin by taking and analyzing samples in areas thought to be affected, and will later participate in a cleanup operation. The scientists are set to work in a region called Phu Cat, the site of a former US base where the notorious chemical Agent Orange – a leaf defoliating substance us by the US that caused serious side-effects in humans – was stored. Around 17,000 people in the area are thought to suffer health problems as a result of Agent Orange. Czech specialists have already been working in the country for three years on similar projects, and the latest announcement marks an affirmation of the positive relations that have been developed as a result of this work. The work will in part be carried out by private contractors – a tender has just been issued by the Czech Development Agency.
The Czech Republic has seen a three-fold increase in lung cancer cases among women over the last ten years according to new data. The figures published in the Czech daily Právo suggest that while ten years ago, there were ten cases for every 100,000 women, today that figure has risen to thirty. Men, on the other hand, have seen a slight decline in lung cancer cases, from 101 cases per 100,000 ten years ago, to 78 today. The causes for the growth in these cases, is given as increased smoking by women, as well as other lifestyle factors including alcohol consumption, diet, environment and stress. There are currently around 6200 cases of lung cancer diagnosed in the Czech Republic each year, with around eighty percent of those not surviving treatment.
A report by the website Aktualne.cz suggests that US president-elect Barack Obama will not visit the Czech Republic in April next year. Previously, it had been suggested that the new president could be persuaded to attend an EU summit in Prague, held as part of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. Though no formal announcement was ever made, some Czech politicians strongly suggested that the US president would attend. According to Aktualne.cz, this option has now been rendered moot, as then President Obama will be attending a G20 summit in London held at the same time.
The Czech government has approved a contentious proposal for reforming the system of health insurance in the Czech Republic. The proposals had led to intense negotiations between the Civic Democrat Health Minister Tomáš Julínek and members of the minority coalition government, the Green Party and the Christian Democrats. The new proposals contain amendment requested by the Christian Democrats to clarify what is deemed to be “above-standard” care.
Less than a year after substantial fare rises on the Prague public transit system, the authority that oversees Prague’s network of Metros, Trams and buses has announced that it will seek further fare increases. The price hike has been requested because the Prague Transit Authority is seeking to compensate for what it calls a smaller government budget. However, the Prague mayor’s office rejected this, stating that Czech public transport has a budget comparable to or greater than many cities around the world.
A new study by the Eurydice organisation reveals that Czech children are learning at least one foreign language at an age comparable to their European counterparts. Czech children can volunteer to begin learning a second language from the age of eight, but some start even earlier, while it is only compulsory at the age of fourteen. However, the report does highlight some contrasts in which the Czech Republic does not do so well – for example, while Bulgarian or Danish children spend around two-hundred hours a year on foreign languages, Czech children only spend half that time. The Czech Republic also does not rate well in the number of children choosing to study a second language, according to the Eurydice report.