Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek has said that EU member states need to work together to overcome the current global financial crisis. After a meeting with the head of the European Trade Union Confederation, John Monks, on Wednesday, the Czech prime minister said that Europe’s governments and unions had agreed that a ‘common solution’ was the only solution to the current economic turmoil. At the meeting on Wednesday morning, Mr Monks called on Mr Topolánek to take drastic action to secure European markets during his time at the helm of the European Union. Mr Monks said that it was agreed that protectionism was not the answer to the economic crisis being felt around the continent.
The Czech Republic has been criticized by the Council of Europe for failing to acknowledge the International Criminal Court. Eight of the Council of Europe’s 47 members are yet to acknowledge the court; they include Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the Czech Republic. The International Criminal Court was set up in 2002 to try individuals on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has been recognised by 108 countries around the world. The Czech Senate signed a bill acknowledging the court in July last year, which was subsequently approved by the lower house in October. The bill is now pending the signature of President Václav Klaus, who is refusing to sign it, saying it is unconstitutional.
The Czech justice minister Jiří Pospíšil met Pope Benedict XVI on Wednesday, and confirmed that the head of the Catholic Church would be visiting the Czech Republic in September this year. At the meeting, the Pope said he was looking forward to his visit, but that the actual dates of the trip still had to be discussed. Mr Pospíšil was visiting the Vatican as a representative of the European Union, over which the Czech Republic currently presides.
The majority of Czechs would like their Parliament ratify the EU’s Lisbon treaty, a poll conducted by the STEM agency and released on Wednesday suggests. A total of 64 percent of respondents said that they were for the ratification of the EU reform document, a 19 percent increase on last October’s results. Some 70 percent of those questioned, however, said that they did not understand exactly what the Lisbon treaty was for. Neither the Czech Parliament nor the Senate have voted yet on Lisbon’s ratification. The Czech Republic is, as such, the only country in the EU yet to make a decision upon the treaty. On Tuesday, MPs decided to postpone a debate on the Lisbon treaty until February 15 at the earliest.
The Russian airline Aeroflot has officially voiced its interest in the purchase of Czech state-owned carrier ČSA. On Thursday, the general director of Aeroflot, Valerij Okulov, promised that if his firm’s bid was successful, then Aeroflot would ‘widen and improve’ ČSA’s services and that Prague’s Ruzyně airport would continue to be a hub. The Czech government announced the sale of ČSA on January 19 this year. The state currently owns 92 percent of the airline, which is considered one of its biggest assets. Analysts are expecting the airline to sell for as much as 5 billion crowns (242.6 million USD). The opposition Social Democrats are questioning the timing of the sale in the current financial climate. The government plans to announce the new owner of ČSA in September 2009.
In related news, sales of plane tickets shot up in the Czech Republic last year by almost ten percent. According to data released by the International Air Transport Association, Czechs bought over 790,000 plane tickets in 2008, and spent a sum worth more than ten billion crowns on flights. According to the news website iDnes.cz which released the figures, sales could in fact be even higher, as no low-cost airlines have been counted in this survey. The study found that the average cost of a plane ticket fell by 400 crowns to 10,242 crowns (nearly 500 USD) in 2008.
The Czech Senate approved a bill abolishing healthcare fees for the under-18s on Wednesday. The bill also halves the maximum amount that pensioners will have to pay for their healthcare each year to 2,500 crowns (120 USD). The paper will now be handed to the lower house for approval. Healthcare fees have been controversial since their adoption at the start of 2008. Czechs must now pay 30 crowns each time they visit the doctor and 60 crowns per night spent in hospital.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament is postponing a debate planned for
next Tuesday on ratifying the European Union’s Lisbon treaty, the
chairman of the Chamber of Deputies, Miloslav Vlček, told reporters. The
matter had already been postponed once, in December. The lower house is now
set to discuss Lisbon after meetings of its foreign affairs and
constitutional-legal committees planned for February 15.
Even if it is ratified in Parliament, the Czech president, Václav Klaus, has indicated he will not sign the EU’s reform treaty unless it is approved by Ireland; Irish voters rejected Lisbon in a referendum last June and are due to vote on it again this year.
President Václav Klaus has signed into law a new Penal Code featuring several significant changes, including reducing the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 14 and increasing sentences for serious crimes and corruption. It also classifies new crimes like stalking, certain types of drug taking in sport and animal negligence. However, the minister of justice, Jiří Pospíšil, is already planning an amendment to return the age of age of criminal responsibility to 15, at the request of the Christian Democrats, who said they would not vote for the new code otherwise.
A ceremony was held at the Czech Senate on Tuesday marking Holocaust Memorial Day. Hundreds of people who survived Nazi concentration camps attended the memorial, held on the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Others in attendance were the Czech Republic’s chief rabbi Karol Sidon, the head of the Czech Roman Catholic church, Cardinal Miloslav Vlk, and the new minister of human rights and minorities, Michael Kocáb.