Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that the EU’s Lisbon
treaty could come into effect in late 2009. The prime minister made the
statement in Brussels on Thursday evening at the close of the first day of
the EU summit. At the meeting, EU leaders agreed that member states will
continue to have their own commissioner – provided the treaty is
approved. As it stands, the ratification process remains stalled in both
Poland and Germany, while the Czech Republic has yet to vote on the
document in Parliament. The Czechs are expected to do so in the first
months of 2009, after they take up the EU presidency.
Meanwhile, on Friday, EU leaders agreed to provide a number of guarantees for Ireland to pave the way for that country to hold a new referendum on the Lisbon treaty in 2009; the document was rejected by voters there earlier this year.
EU leaders have agreed on a plan to help the economy hit by the international financial crisis. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek confirmed on Friday that the plan would set aside 200 billion euros to help stimulate European economies hit by the ongoing crisis. The plan includes steps to be taken to help increase employment, boost small and medium-size businesses, as well as increase investment in research & development – namely in ecologically-friendly technologies, as well as other projects.
Citing diplomatic sources, the Czech news agency ČTK has reported that the European Commission will provide a subsidy of almost 400,000 euros for events related to the Czech EU presidency in the first half of 2009. The EC will reportedly subsidise events such as so-called “Eurofestivals” to accompany informal meetings by EU ministers. Six open-air festivals, including music and discussions, are to be held over six months. The first will take place in Luhačovice, south Moravia, during a meeting of EU labour and social affairs ministers on January 23. The last, on June 1, will complement an informal meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Brno. The remaining festivals are to take place in Olomouc, Ceské Budějovice, Karlovy Vary, and Ustí nad Labem. The EC will also subsidise a conference marking the 5th anniversary of enlargement of the EU by ten new members (including the Czech Republic) in 2004.
The financial daily E15 has reported that a former candidate for the Czech presidency, Czech-American economist Jan Švejnar, has rejected the possibility of joining Mirek Topolánek’s centre-right government. The prime minister is looking to fill the post of deputy prime minister for the economy, newly-created to allow for the better coordination of crisis measures in response to the international economic downturn. Lidové noviny writes that the prime minister may also consider former Social Democrat finance minister Jiří Rusnok for the post. Mr Topolánek is expected to announce personnel changes in the cabinet ahead of the holidays. A number of sources have reported that the current ministers of health, transport, as well as minority rights, may go.
The automobile manufacturer Škoda Auto has announced it will be scaling back production to just four days a week as of January 19. The move is in response to the continuing financial crisis and the measures are to stay in place until June. There will be no production at the plant in Mladá Boleslav, north-east of Prague on Fridays, with the exception of one vehicle, the Škoda Roomster. Employees staying at home an extra day will receive 75 percent of their pay check, plus daily bonuses, the company announced after negotiating the terms of the new agreement with union representatives.
The Senate has passed a government bill tightening criteria for the possession of firearms in the Czech Republic as of January 1, 2009. The aim is to lower the risk of legally-held weapons being used in crimes. The legislation also toughens criteria for those seeking a gun licence, said to disqualify individuals with histories of heavy alcohol or drug abuse. Punishment for crimes involving firearms as well as stricter controls on defunct weapons are also part of the bill, as are requirements to report the transport of large numbers of firearms and ammunition. In past cases, firearms that had been written off were later found to still be functional and in illegal use. In order to come into effect, the legislation must now be signed by the president.
On Thursday, the Senate approved a proposal extending Czech participation in foreign missions in 2009. Around 1,400 Czech soldiers could serve in peacekeeping, reconstruction and security missions abroad next year, with the highest increase of personnel taking place in Afghanistan. Under the plan up to 745 Czech soldiers could serve in Afghanistan as part of the NATO ISAF mission, while the Czech contingent in Baghdad, Iraq, is to be made smaller. 20 personnel training local security forces there will drop to just five. The Czechs will also continue to serve in Kosovo, with no increases expected, although more than 500 soldiers could be provided for the mission there under special circumstances. The proposal must now be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, where support is uncertain given the the government lacks a majority.
Albatros, the famous Czech publishing house specialising in children’s books, has changed owners, after being sold by the Bonton Group. The buyer is a Czech company known as Narcia Consulting, aktualne.cz reported, in effect the publisher’s CEO and others. According to sources, Albatros’s CEO Michal Krejčí and marketing director Petr Bělohradský had been trying to buy Albatros stock assets since the beginning of the year. The cost of the deal was not announced, but ČTK has cited sources estimating the deal could be worth between 150 to 200 million crowns, (the latter the equivalent of around 10.3 million US dollars). Albatros’s history goes back to 1949. It has published thousands of different titles, including the Czech editions of the Harry Potter series.
Pittsburgh forward Petr Sýkora notched up his first NHL career hat-trick
on Thursday in the Penguins’ 9:2 romp over the New York Islanders.
Dupuis also had a hat-trick on the night. Sýkora has come close to
hat-tricks before, scoring twice on 38 different occasions - but the key
third goal had eluded him until now.
In other action, Columbus forward Jakub Voráček scored the decider in penalties against Nashville, the final score 2:1. And, Zbyněk Michálek scored the opening goal of the night for Phoenix against Minnesota. Phoenix went on to win 3:1.
Deputy Michal Pohanka, who was elected to the lower house as a Social Democrat MP, but later switched to being an independent, has said he will resign. Mr Pohanka gained notoriety following the 2006 parliamentary elections, which essentially resulted in a stalemate. Along with fellow Social Democrat MP Miloš Melčák, he voted to give confidence to the opposition coalition government. The move earned the MP the label of “defector” and Mr Pohanka soon left the Social Democrat ranks. The move undoubtedly makes life somewhat more complicated for the governing coalition as the Social Democrats are likely to appoint a replacement whom they believe will vote along party lines. The stated reason for Mr Pohanka’s decision is to give space for the governing Civic Democrats and opposition Social Democrats to negotiate, particularly over the future of the Lisbon Treaty – the MP denied that political pressure had played a role in the decision. Many fellow MPs said they were surprised by the resignation.