The leader of the opposition Social Democrats says the government cannot
rely on their support during the Czech Republic’s EU presidency unless
the process of ratifying the European Union’s Lisbon treaty begins before
the end of the year. Jiří Paroubek issued the warning just two days
before a much-anticipated conference of the governing Civic Democrats,
where Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek will defend his post as party
chairman. Mr Topolánek, who is a supporter of Lisbon, said earlier this
week that there would be no attempt to make Civic Democrat lawmakers pledge
to back the treaty at the conference, which begins in Prague on Friday.
Mr Paroubek’s Social Democrats have called a special session of the Chamber of Deputies to debate ratification of the EU’s reform document next Tuesday. The prime minister says, however, he will not be pushed into voting on that date. He had previously said a vote could be held in the first three months of 2009: that is, after the Czech Republic’s first six-month presidency of the EU has begun.
Mirek Topolánek’s challenger for the leadership of the Civic Democrats, Pavel Bém, is opposed to Lisbon. He is expected to bring up a previous party resolution pledging not to hand any powers over to Brussels during this weekend’s congress. Mr Bém is close to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, one of Europe’s most vocal opponents of the Treaty of Lisbon. Even if the Czech Parliament approves it, Mr Klaus has indicated he will not sign the document until it has been ratified by Ireland, where voters rejected the document in a referendum in June.
Ahead of this weekend’s vote for the post of chairman of the Civic Democrats, Prime Minister Topolánek is some way ahead of Pavel Bém in terms of pledged support from regional branches. Mr Bém, who is the mayor of Prague, currently occupies the post of first deputy chairman of the party. He launched a challenge against Mr Topolánek in the wake of a drubbing for the party in Senate and regional elections in October.
Meanwhile, Pavel Bém has released a humorous video ahead of the leadership vote. It is based on a popular TV advertisement starring the comedian Petr Čtvrtníček, who himself appears in and directed Mr Bém’s video.
The Chamber of Deputies has sent the proposed 2009 budget to a final
reading. During Wednesday’s lower house session, the minister of labour,
Petr Necaš, announced a government plan to increase funding for public
sector pay by CZK 2.7 billion. He said most of that money would go towards
bonuses. Meanwhile, several MPs tabled proposals to earmark funding for
institutions and projects in their constituencies.
The minister of finance, Miroslav Kalousek, has proposed a budget deficit of CZK 38 billion. The left wing opposition parties have said they will vote against, while some rebel deputies from the governing Civic Democrats have also expressed reservations.
The Czech police have launched an internet map highlighting the country’s worst accident black spots. As well as drawing motorists’ attention to black spots, it is intended to help police and local authorities take measures to deal with dangerous stretches of road. The map will not offer up-to-date information on the condition of the country’s roads, but contains statistical data which will be updated every three months.
A gang accused of large-scale production of the illegal drug methamphetamine have been arrested in Ostrava, north Moravia. The six men apprehended at the end of November are accused of producing up to 20,000 doses of methamphetamine a month; police said in the week they had monitored the group they had produced CZK 2 million worth of the drug. A police spokesperson said they had received reports it had become very hard to find methamphetamine in Ostrava and the nearby city of Opava since the arrests were made.
An exhibition of historical radios, record players and telephones has begun at the Atrium shopping centre on Prague’s Karlovo náměstí. It includes Czechoslovak and American radios from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, including valuable pre-war models. Most are being displayed in this country for the first time. The exhibition also features an original Edison phonograph.
The Czech military field hospital in Kabul has been closed and all remaining personnel will return to the Czech Republic by December 19, an army spokesperson said on Tuesday. The field hospital was set up in 2007 as part of NATO’s peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. Despite the field hospital’s closure, a Czech military presence will remain in Afghanistan. Czech soldiers will continue to be deployed to the country’s Logar province to make up a Provincial Reconstruction Team. Czech deputies are currently discussing plans to step up military operations in the Central Asian country and are expected to reach a decision by the end of this year.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ruled that the Czech Republic treated an Egyptian asylum seeker unlawfully; detaining him for over ten months while his case was pending. On Tuesday, the Czech state was ordered to pay Mr Muhammad Magdi Mansur Rashid 2000 euros in damages. Mr Rashid was eventually sent back to Egypt in June 2007. He argued that his detainment in a holding centre near Prague had been illegal and that authorities had not moved quickly enough in dealing with his complaint. On Tuesday, the Court of Human Rights ruled that the conditions in which he had been kept breached the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms.
Czech trade unions have said that Health Minister Tomáš Julínek’s recent healthcare reform bills are badly worded and contain many mistakes. On Tuesday, the head of the Trade Union of Doctors in the Czech Republic, Martin Engel, said that he predicted many lawsuits due to the ambiguity of terms used in the bills. The Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions also condemned the reforms, saying that they circumvented the charter of fundamental human rights. A first wave of healthcare reforms was implemented in January to reduce waste in the healthcare system. Health Minister Tomáš Julínek has met with strong opposition in his bid to further overhaul the Czech healthcare system with follow-up reforms.
Agriculture Minister Petr Gandalovič has said that the Czech Republic will push for simpler and more cost-effective common agricultural policy during the country’s EU presidency, which starts next month. Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Gandalovič said his other priorities would be countryside development and the monitoring of food quality. According to Mr Gandalovič, the biggest event to be organized by his ministry in the course of the Czech EU presidency will be a meeting of the union’s agricultural ministers in the second city, Brno, where CAP reform will be discussed.