French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer have backed a second term for European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. After a meeting with President Sarkozy in Paris on Friday, Prime Minister Fischer, who currently heads the Czech EU presidency, said Mr. Barroso had the Czech Republic’s full support. The interim prime minister, who took over after the fall of Mirek Topolánek’s centre-right government in March, is now holding a series of talks with EU leaders to discuss preparations for next week’s EU summit in Brussels, the last to be held under the Czech EU presidency. Following his meeting with President Sarkozy, Prime Minister Fischer dismissed speculation about a rift with France following criticism of the Czech presidency, saying the meeting had been cordial and productive.
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Kohout said on Friday the Czech Republic would push for clear, strong and targeted EU sanctions against the Burmese military junta in an effort to obtain the release of the country’s political prisoners. Minister Kohout on Friday received a petition in support of the release of Burmese political prisoners signed by 5,000 Czechs. He pledged to push for sanctions at a meeting of EU foreign ministers next Monday, which he will chair on behalf of the Czech EU presidency. He said restrictive measures against the Burmese regime were supported by all 27 EU countries, but the ministers had yet to agree on how far they should go.
The Czech EU presidency on Friday called on EU countries to take measures to prevent unnecessary illnesses and fatalities caused by malnutrition in hospitals. According to a European survey, some 40 percent of patients in hospitals in the Czech Republic and other EU countries suffer from malnutrition. In the facilities with provided home care up to 60 percent of inmates are starving. Malnutrition may lead to serious health problems, it prolongs the time of treatment and increases its costs. Experts say the cost of treating illnesses provoked by malnutrition amounts to 170 billion euros annually, but its prevention would save up to 1000 euros per hospitalized patient.
The Czech EU presidency has convoked an informal summit of the EU and Jordan in Brussels on June 17, a diplomatic source told the ctk news agency on Friday. The meeting will be attended by the king of Jordan, Abdullah II, EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU high representative for foreign and security policy Javier Solana, and Czech President Vaclav Klaus. According to diplomats, the EU-Jordan summit will focus on the Middle East peace process and the possibilities of solving persisting disputes between Israel and the Palestinians.
Due to the economic crisis, the Czech Republic's public finance deficit is expected to grow significantly above the level of 3 percent of GDP necessary to adopt the euro in the coming years, according to a fiscal outlook published by the Czech Finance Ministry on Friday. This year’s deficit is expected to reach 4.5 percent of GDP, next year’s is projected at 5.1 percent and the deficit in 2011 is expected to reach 4.9 percent of GDP. The Finance Ministry notes in this connection that the EU will probably soon start excessive debt procedure with the Czech Republic. This procedure was concluded with the Czech Republic only last year in June thanks to the country’s good results in 2007. The public finance gap last year reached 1.5 percent of GDP. Due to the Czech Republic’s export-oriented economy, the global crisis has significantly changed the country’s economic potential and fiscal goals.
The families of Prime Minister Jan Fischer and Interior Minister Martin Pecina have been given police protection in the wake of the biggest-ever operation against far-right extremists. Deputy police chief Jiří Houba described the move as a preventative measure made in view of an expected radicalization of far-right groups following a series of raids against far-right radicals around the country. Ten people have been charged with “promoting a movement aimed at suppressing rights and freedoms”. They are all members of the National Resistance movement, one of the two biggest ultra-right groups in the Czech Republic. Prime Minister Fischer has said that he considers the fight against growing extremism a top priority.
The Czech health authorities are bracing for a possible epidemic of swine flu in the country, after the World Health Organization declared a swine flu pandemic on Thursday. So far only four cases of swine flu have been confirmed, all of them a mild form of the disease that did not require hospitalization. At present there are no plans to restrict travel, although people have been warned to cancel all non-essential trips to high-risk destinations. As EU president, the Czech Republic is cooperating closely with the World Health Organization in planning, coordinating and facilitating measures to contain and mitigate the effects of the disease on a global scale.
Actress Kateřina Brožová has withdrawn her candidacy for the Social Democratic Party in the autumn general elections. She cited personal reasons for her decision, saying she wanted to concentrate on her career and have more time for her young daughter. Social Democrat leader Jiří Paroubek, who persuaded the actress to run in the elections, said he was disappointed by her decision, which he considered to be the result of a hysterical campaign against her. The actress came under immense pressure after announcing her decision, with the media questioning her ability to handle the job and part of the Social Democrats publicly refusing to take her on board.
The controversial artwork Entropa by Czech sculptor David Černý, made to mark the Czech EU presidency, has gone on show uncensored in Prague. The work, which depicts EU member states through stereotypes, caused a stir when it was put up at EU headquarters in Brussels. Bulgaria, depicted as a squat toilet, tabled an official protest and the image had to be covered with black cloth. Entropa was dismantled early at David Černý’s request in protest against the no-confidence vote that toppled the centre-right government mid-way through the country’s presidency. It is now displayed at Prague's private DOX gallery of modern art.
Former Christian Democratic leader and ex-finance minister Miroslav Kalousek has officially unveiled his new centre-right party, TOP 09. The official announcement had been highly anticipated as the party is expected to draw many members from other centre-right parties. TOP 09, which stands for tradition, responsibility and prosperity, will be based on a platform of social conservativism and fiscal responsibility with a strong emphasis on “Europe’s Judeo-Christian tradition”. Historically one of the leading members of Christian Democrats, Mr Kalousek resigned his party membership on account of what he sees as increasing leftward tendencies. Five other Christian Democrat MPs have also left the party, reducing its tally of MPs from 13 to seven.