The global recession, the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation and the spread of swine flu topped the agenda of an EU-Japanese summit in Prague on Monday. The summit was chaired by President Václav Klaus and was attended by the Japanese Prime Ministr Taro Aso, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The EU and Japan agreed to work together on a new emissions-reduction treaty that would replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012, and the EU supported Japan’s call for a speedy resumption of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme.
Talks on the composition of Jan Fischer’s caretaker cabinet are back on
track, with political leaders saying the prime minister designate has their
Representatives of the Civic Democrats, Social Democrats and the Greens
have put forward fresh candidates for the ministerial posts that remain to
be filled. There is general agreement that the new cabinet line up should
be ready by May 8, when president Klaus is expected to appoint the new
Mr. Fischer said the main goal of his administration would be to successfully finish the country’s EU presidency and to draft the 2010 state budget, keeping the budget deficit below 150 billion crowns. He said he would require restraint in all budget chapters and seek a reasonable compromise between the proposals of the current governing coalition and the opposition. The National Economic Council, set up as an advisory body to the Topolánek cabinet, will continue to work for the new prime minister.
Outgoing Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek is back in the game for a place in the new caretaker cabinet. Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has strongly recommended that Mr. Kalousek be allowed to retain his post since he would be able to keep the balooning fiscal gap in check ahead of an early election in October. Miroslav Kalousek, a minister for the Christian Democrats, was considered for the post earlier but rejected in view of the non-partisan character of the interim cabinet. Meanwhile, the Green Party is pushing for the outgoing minister for human rights and minorities Michal Kocáb to be allowed to remain in office.
Senators from the ruling Civic Democratic Party are considering filing a new constitutional complaint against the Lisbon treaty, if the upper house of Parliament approves it in a vote due on May 6th. Senator Jiří Oberfalzer of the Civic Democrats said he would back the complaint since he was convinced the treaty would harm the country’s interests. The senator said he feared the worst, since the outgoing Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek had secured the votes required for the treaty’s approval. Civic Democrat senators lodged a complaint about the treaty with the Constitutional Court last year, but failed to do more than delay its ratification since the court ruled that the Lisbon treaty was in line with the Constitution of the Czech Republic.
The outgoing centre-right government has approved a wage increase of 3.5 percent for employees in the public sector due to take effect as of June 1st. The wage hike will apply to some 500,000 people. Labour and Social Affairs Minister Petr Nečas said the wage hike would not burden the budget excessively since it was a "relatively mild indexation." He said the move was an effort to make up for the decline in real gross pay in the public sector last year.
The Czech government on Monday unveiled a new strategy in the fight against extremism, which should involve repression and prevention in equal measure. The strategy involves closer cooperation between town mayors, the police, state attorneys and judges in preventing extremist gatherings from taking place, pinpointing offences when they happen and punishing the offenders. Interior Minister Ivan Langer said the rise in extremism in recent years was all the more dangerous in that it had growing public support and that extremist organizations now had lawyers to advise them how to stay within the margin of the law while spreading their propaganda. He said the state must intensify its efforts to counter this, at all levels.
The Czech government on Monday approved a plan to build a memorial for Romany Holocaust victims on the site of a former wartime internment camp for Romanies in Lety, southern Bohemia. The Lety memorial would be administered by the Memorial of Lidice, a village razed to the ground by the Nazis in 1942. The Lety site has been a painful issue for many years since the communists built a pig farm on the site of the former internment camp and so far all efforts to remove it have failed. An international Romany Holocaust educational and information centre is planned in Hodonín u Kunštátu, south Moravia, the site of another WWII internment camp for Romanies.
The Czech health authorities have ruled out 40 suspected cases of swine flu, twelve more people are being tested. The country has no confirmed case as yet. Chief hygiene officer Michael Vít said on Monday that further preventative measures were unnecessary at this point, but he urged people to cancel all non-essential trips to high-risk destinations. Another 100 or so tourists are still in Mexico and Mr. Vít said doctors would be on standby for their arrival. Six of those who arrived on Sunday remain in isolation.
Police are investigating the death of a nineteen-year-old whose dead body was found at the site of a techno party just hours after it ended. The police were alerted to the find by an anonymous call. Medics called to the site said there was no indication that the young man had died a violent death. They suspect either a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning. The police are waiting for the results of an autopsy.
The interim prime minister Jan Fisher has been meeting with political leaders to try to reach agreement on the composition of his caretaker cabinet. The process of establishing an interim administration was derailed on Friday when the prime minister designate unexpectedly broke with an earlier political agreement and put forward his own candidates for three important ministerial posts. Leaders of the Civic Democrats, Social Democrats and the Greens have said they would not back such a cabinet and will now put forward other names for Mr. Fischer to consider. The Fisher cabinet was expected to take over on May 8th and lead the country to early elections in October. It is not clear if this unexpected hurdle will delay its appointment.