A two-day informal EU foreign affairs meeting concluded on Saturday at the South Bohemian town of Hluboká after focussing on bringing in countries from the Balkans. EU foreign ministers backed offering membership to countries in the Western Balkans once they meet EU entry conditions and dropping visa conditions as soon as possible. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg insisted at the meeting that the Balkans are part of Europe and should be part of the EU too. But that view is not shared by all 27 EU countries. Mr Schwarzenberg also warned that EU members and candidates feared the ongoing Czech political crisis could disrupt ratification of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and the entry of new members.
Leaders of the country’s two biggest political parties have agreed that early elections should be held in October, the Czech News Agency reported on Saturday. But a Reuters report citing a spokeswoman for Prime Minister and Civic Democrat leader Mirek Topolánek said they had agreed on early elections but not on a date. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek and Mr Topolánek met late Friday to discuss ways of solving the current political crisis following the toppling of the centre-right coalition this week. The Social Democrat leader said he is prepared to support a remodelled version of the outgoing government as long as Minister of the Interior Ivan Langer and Supreme State Attorney Renáta Vesecká do not feature in it, the Czech News Agency said. Mr Paroubek said they also agreed to form a joint working group to discuss solutions to the economic crisis and that under certain conditions his party was prepared to support the government’s crisis package. In a statement on Friday, the Czech President’s office said that he is prepared to help thrash out agreement on an election date and reshuffling the outgoing government.
US President Barack Obama is likely to have a lower key start to his Prague visit than local politicians had hoped, the daily Mladá Fronta Dnes reported on Saturday. It reported the US President has opted for a private dinner in a Czech restaurant with his wife after he touches down in Prague on April 4 rather than an official visit to Prague Castle and the Czech President. Czech organisers have been somewhat taken aback that the whole programme has a more private character then they envisaged, the paper adds. The meeting between US and President Václav Klaus is due to take place early on April 5.
The Czech Republic has said it will back Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski as the new head of NATO. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg announced support for his Polish counterpart a week ahead of a NATO meeting which should decide on the replacement for the current Secretary General, Dutchnman Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The favourite in the race so far is Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Czech President Václav Klaus will represent the Czech Republic at the EU-Russia summit to take place in the far eastern Russian city of Khabarovsk in May, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg has announced. Mr Schwarzenberg said Mr Klaus’ role representing the country, currently at the head of the rotating EU presidency, had been discussed at the end of last week, before the government’s fall. Mr Klaus has taken a different stance from the outgoing government over relations with Russia. Most notably, he blamed Georgia for provoking hostilities in its breakaway regions ahead of the short-lived conflict between Georgia and Russia in August.
The war of words between Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek and President Václav Klaus over the government’s fall was splashed across the pages of Saturday’s Mladá Fronta Dnes. In an interview with the paper President Klaus said the Prime Minister’s accusations that he plotted to topple the government with opposition leader Jiří Paroubek and Prague mayor Pável Bem were “simply lies.” He added that Mr Topolánek had never identified with the Civic Democratic Party’s basic ideas. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek told the paper President Klaus had campaigned to get rid of him as soon as he was elected party leader in 2002 but he had tried to cover up the poor state of their relations.
The Czech state veterinary service has announced a new case of so-called mad cow disease or BSE in a cow in the north of the country. The State Veterinary Office said around 200 cattle would have to be killed as a result. The infected cow was detected during a regular check after it had already been slaughtered. The Czech Republic last reported two cases of BSE in cows in 2007.
The Japanese electronics giant Hitachi has announced it will shut a recently opened Czech plant producing plasma televisions because of falling prices and demand. The plant, employing 800 in the unemployment black spot of Žatec, should shut by the end of March. Hitachi only opened the 85 million dollar plant in 2007. The Czech government has said that the incentives used to attract the Japanese company, such as tax breaks and cheap land, will have to be repaid. The closure is one of the biggest announced in the country since the onset of the world economic crisis.
The Czech football team will take on Slovenia on Saturday evening in Maribor for a key World Cup qualification match. Much of the pre-match attention has been on whether Czech striker Milan Baroš will lead the attack after the manager’s comments that his place was not certain. The two teams are both among a group of four countries with seven points so far with group leaders Slovakia on nine. The Czech Republic won the home game against Slovenia 1 – 0 in October.
In ice hockey, Slavia Prague booked their place in the extra league finals after taking a 4-1 lead in the semi-final play-off series against Pilsen on Friday night. The exhilarating match went to penalties after Pilsen star Martin Straka equalized at 5-5 in the last minutes. The star of the penalties was none other than Vladimír Růžička, the son of the Slavia team manager, who gave his team the 6-5 victory on the night.