Addressing the weekend conference of the ruling Civic Democratic Party President Václav Klaus announced that he was giving up his post as honorary chairman, citing growing ideological differences between him and the party leadership. Mr. Klaus, who founded the Civic Democrats in 1991, said that in recent years it had changed course, becoming more of a centrist party which he found difficult to accept and identify with. He thanked party members for 18 years of cooperation and said that it was now up to them to choose a path that would benefit not only the party but the Czech Republic.
Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek, who is defending his place as the head of the Civic Democrats, said the party was going in the right direction both domestic and foreign-policy wise, but that it had made a lot of mistakes along the way for which he was ready to accept part of the blame. He said it was time to learn from those mistakes, bring an end to party-infighting and regain the party’s lost trust. The prime minister said the Civic Democrats had pushed ahead with reforms without properly explaining them to the public, had tarnished the party’s image with scandals and infighting and totally underestimated the importance of public relations.
The Civic Democrat leader also promised to push for the establishment of a new European right-wing group in the European Parliament after elections in the summer of 2009, saying that Europe needed more realism and less dogmatism and defense of national interests. Mr. Topolánek urged his party to support the Lisbon treaty even though it was imperfect, because no positive changes in Europe were possible without it. He said that during its EU presidency in the first half of 2009 the Czech Republic would take an active approach to solving Europe’s problems.
The Civic Democratic Party conference is expected to elect its leadership on Sunday morning. Party leader Mirek Topolánek who has weathered a storm of criticism in recent months, most recently for the party’s humiliating defeat in regional and Senate elections, is likely to get reelected. His challenger Prague Mayor Pavel Bém, who is seen as a close associate of President Klaus and who has criticized the party’s direction, has little support outside of Prague.
In an unprecedented move, the President’s Office has published a transcript of Friday’s meeting between President Klaus and a delegation of the European Parliament which ended in sharp dispute. The head of the President’s Office Jiří Weigl strongly criticized some of the statements made in the course of the meeting, saying that the leader of the European Greens MEP Cohn-Bendit had devised the talks as a provocation. The Czech president was visibly angered when MEP Cohn-Bendit told him that in his position he had no right meeting with people like Declan Ganley, the Irish opponent of the Lisbon treaty, and asked him to explain his ties to the man. Mr. Klaus said later he had never been addressed in such a manner in all his years as head of state. Mr. Cohn-Bendit told Mlada Fronta Dnes that he had been intentionally provocative, saying that the Czech President should have been prepared to get asked certain questions.
Around 300 members and supporters of the far-right Workers’ Party staged a protest in Prague on Saturday against a government proposal to have the party outlawed on the grounds that its activities frequently overstep the boundaries of the law. The protest took place right outside Clarion Hotel, the site of the weekend conference of the Civic Democratic Party, and was kept in check by some 500 officers. The leader of the Workers Party Tomas Vandas accused the government of suppressing freedom of speech and said that the party would remain a force to be reckoned with under this name or another.
Economic analysts say that Czech consumers have yet to feel the effects of the global financial crisis. A number of independent analysts polled by the CTK news agency said that while banks have tightened the criteria for loans and mortgages, real wages are still growing, the price of fuel has dropped and unemployment does not pose a great risk for the majority of Czechs. However they predict that in the first quarter of next year people will be fully exposed to the effects of the global crisis, with family budgets burdened by higher electricity, heating and water bills.
In the first game of the World Floorball Championships currently taking place in the Czech Republic the Swiss team beat Estonia 7: 6. The Czechs are due to play their first game against Russia and will then face the unchallenged world champions from Sweden - a star team that has won all six world championships held to date in this relatively new sport.
A meeting between Czech President Václav Klaus and members of the European Parliament erupted in sharp dispute on Friday, with the president of the EP Hans-Gert Poettering stepping in to try and calm the situation, the news site aktuálně.cz reported. According to aktuálně, Mr Klaus was angered when questioned by Green Party MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit and wanted to cut the meeting short. Mr Cohn-Bendit is said to have asked the president about his stance on the Lisbon treaty, as well as about his ties to Declan Ganley, the head of the conservative think-tank Libertas (Mr Klaus, a euro-sceptic, met with the Irish businessman last month in the face of EU criticism). Daniel Cohn-Bendit later described Friday’s meeting at Prague Castle as “crazy” and Mr Klaus’s behaviour as “paranoid”. The president’s spokesman Jiří Weigl rejected Mr Cohn-Bendit’s account of the incident and called his actions a “provocation”.
The ruling Civic Democrats have begun a three-day conference to decide on the next party leader and set the party’s course for the coming months. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek, chairman of the Civic Democrats since 2002, is being challenged by Prague Mayor Pavel Bém, highly critical of the Civic Democrats’ current direction. After receiving far higher regional backing, Mirek Topolánek is currently expected to retain the post. Unlike Mr Topolánek, who is for the continuation of the current coalition with the Christian Democrats and the Greens, Mr Bém said he would prefer a minority Civic Democrat government. Around 500 delegates will vote on Sunday to decide on the party’s next leader.