The new Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer will visit EU headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday in a bid to shore up confidence in his country's EU presidency, following a change-of-guard in Prague. The interim prime minister will meet with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, employment commissioner Vladimir Špidla and Belgian's Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy. Mr. Fischer has repeatedly stressed that his interim government would do its utmost to ensure a smooth transition and fulfill the country’s role as EU leader.
The Czech EU presidency says that a normalization of EU-Cuban relations should be conditioned by respect for human rights on the island. Following a meeting with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriques in Brussels, Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said it was important to maintain pressure on Havana to respect human rights. He said that when the EU delegation inquired about the health of political prisoners in Cuba, they had been told there were no political prisoners on the island. Despite this, the block’s development commissioner Luis Michel is pushing for the EU to normalize relations with Cuba as swiftly as possible on the grounds that the US is doing the same.
The Czech president and the Senate are engaged in a war of words over the ratification of the Lisbon treaty in the Czech upper chamber last week. Shortly after the vote, President Klaus said the treaty’s ratification was a failure by the country’s political elite to defend Czech interests. On Monday Senate chairman Přemysl Sobotka hit back, reminding the Czech president that the upper chamber was a sovereign legislative body to which Mr. Klaus owed his reelection as head of state. Earlier, Senate Deputy Chairwoman Alena Gajdušková voiced the opinion that impeachment proceedings could be started against the president if he failed to respect Parliament’s decision and sign the Lisbon treaty. Mr. Klaus has made it clear he would not be signing the Lisbon treaty any time soon, and pronounced it to be “dead” on the grounds of the Irish referendum.
The Czech president is to receive the head of the eurosceptic party Libertas Declan Ganley at Prague Castle on Tuesday. Mr. Ganley last week welcomed the Czech president’s decision to not sign the Lisbon treaty, despite its ratification by both houses of Parliament. Libertas’s leader said President Klaus was standing by the people of Ireland and would not ratify the treaty without their consent.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer has promised to review a controversial article of the penal code that critics say restricts press freedom. The so-called “muzzling law”, which took effect on April 1 of this year, prohibits the publication of police wiretappings and bans media from naming the victims of crimes. Sentences for breaking the legislation run to five years behind bars and fines of up to five million crowns (225,000 dollars). Politicians claim the amendment was approved to protect crime victims, but critics say its primary function is to protect politicians from unwelcome publicity. In response to a joint appeal from the Czech media, Prime Minister Fischer said he viewed the legislation as problematic and would have it reviewed by the cabinet.
The new labour minister, Petr Šimerka, took up office on Monday pledging to push ahead with the pension reform. Minister Šimerka, who took over from Petr Nečas of the Civic Democrats, said the pension reform was a long-term project which necessitated broad political consensus and could therefore be taken further by the interim administration. Minister Šimerka said work on the new labour code would also continue over the summer. Political analysts are skeptical regarding the interim government’s action capability, saying that any decisions made will have to win support from the two strongest parties in Parliament.
David Černý’s controversial artwork Entropa, which was unveiled in Brussels at the start of the Czech EU presidency, is being dismantled at the artist’s request. Mr. Černý has ordered the work to be taken down in protest against the fall of the centre-right government of prime minister Mirek Topolánek, midway through the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. Originally the piece was expected to remain in Brussels until the end of June. Prime Minister Jan Fischer said he would have preferred for the artwork to remain in place until the end of the Czech presidency, but he fully respected the artist’s ownership rights.
The Czech police have cracked down on a group of Vietnamese involved in illegal production and distribution of cigarettes in the Czech Republic and Germany. A special unit seized 9.5 million cigarettes, 15 tons of tobacco, several hundred thousand cigarette stamps, seven cars and three million crowns in cash when detaining the suspects. The group allegedly shipped raw tobacco leaves from Vietnam and China and operated a secret production line in the Czech Republic which could put out 2,500 cigarettes per minute. Some were sold in the Czech Republic, the rest smuggled to Germany. Seven Vietnamese nationals have been charged with tax fraud.
Three-quarters of Czechs are of the opinion that the country’s EU membership offers them better living conditions and work opportunities, but it also leads to increasing red tape, according to the latest poll conducted by the CVVM agency. Enumerating the advantages, respondents praised subsidies from EU funds and said membership had increased the country’s visibility. Among the disadvantages cited was the brain drain to other EU states and the limitations imposed by EU legislation. The Czech Republic joined the EU in May, 2004.
The European Union and Pakistan are planning to hold their first ever summit, the Reuters news agency reported on Saturday quoting sources from the Czech EU presidency. The summit should take place on June 17 in Brussels. The 27-member bloc and the United States seek to boost ties with Pakistan because of concern over the spread of Islamic militancy in the country. A source from the Czech presidency of the bloc said that the EU wanted to strengthen the civilian Pakistani government by showing strong support at the highest level. The agenda of the planned summit should include topics such as fight against terrorism, cooperation on the rule of law, and the improvement of trading relations.