The final European summit of the Czech Republic’s EU presidency got underway in Brussels this Thursday, chaired by Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer. Items on the agenda at the European Council meeting include Ireland’s ratification of the Lisbon treaty, the appointment of the next head of the European Commission and regulation of the bloc’s financial markets. Mr Fischer is also to discuss the role of the Czech Republic’s next European commissioner, even though he said on Tuesday that it would be up to the next government to decide who should fill this post.
The state-run electric company ČEZ is set to receive a major windfall following a parliament proposal to change the format for emissions trading in the future. The amendment proposes to allow power companies to escape the obligation to buy emissions allowances if they invest the savings instead in clean power production technology. The proposed new law has been sharply contested by many, the Green Party in particular, who say it is a bonus worth billions of crowns for ČEZ that will not necessarily result in cheaper electricity. Proponents of the bill however claim that the electric company deserves to offset some of the costs of investing in cleaner, mostly non-coal burning power plants. Criticism is also focusing on the fact that the bill was not submitted to the government according to usual legislative practice, but was attached to a reading of the Consumer Tax Act - a method frowned upon by the Constitutional Court.
The lower house of parliament has overturned a presidential veto to ratify last year’s antidiscrimination act. 118 MPs across the political spectrum voted for the act, with the exclusion of the Communist Party. The new law is primarily intended to define when behaviour towards individuals is discriminatory and when not, and to emphasize equal opportunity. The Czech Republic was expected to pass an antidiscrimination act in 2004 upon entry to the EU, and is the last member state to do so. President Václav Klaus vetoed the act a year ago, saying it was unnecessary as basic rights were already covered by the constitution and other acts.
President Klaus has said the legal guarantees regarding the Lisbon Treaty demanded by the Irish government must be ratified by the Czech Parliament before he will approve them. Interim Prime Minister Jan Fischer promptly opposed the statement, saying the guarantees – which ensure for example that the EU cannot impose abortion laws on Ireland – do not constitute international treaties that would require the approval of the head of state. A strident opponent of the European Union and the Lisbon Treaty in particular, Mr Klaus has been holding off on signing the treaty since it passed parliament in May, citing ongoing reviews in the Constitutional Court.
The Ministry of the Interior has published a manual for communities on how to deal with extremism. The manual is intended for city officials and provides advice on preventing radical demonstrations, references to legal verdicts on extremist rallies, and a list 38 anniversaries celebrated by neo-Nazi organisations. Far-right extremist groups have frequently avoided the country’s stringent anti-fascism laws by marching under false pretexts, for example by picketing in support of the death penalty on Holocaust Remembrance Day. Extremist organisations in the Czech Republic – particularly neo-Nazis – have increased their public activity in recent months, and the government and police have been under pressure to respond. A number of people have been arrested and detained in recent months under laws forbidding the “endorsement or promotion of movements to suppress human rights and freedoms”.
The Governmental Council on Human Rights is seeking to modify the act on same-sex partnerships to allow persons in registered partnerships to adopt children individually. The council announced its view after a meeting on Thursday that the current legal arrangement contravenes the constitution and perhaps EU law and should be repealed. As it stands, the Registered Partnerships Act does not allow persons in such partnerships to adopt. The Ministry of Human Rights however believes that this in effect entails a prohibition on individuals that is discriminatory as it is based on their sexual preference. The amendment of the act would not permit adoption on a partnership basis. The Registered Partnerships Act was passed in 2005 to allow same-sex couples many of the rights of marriage.
The sixth case of swine flu in the Czech Republic was confirmed on Thursday, only one day after the announcement of the last case. The Ministry of Health says a 40-year-old man who recently travelled from the United States via Amsterdam and Munich tested positive for the H1N1 virus. The patient is in good clinical condition and is being monitored at his home.
Reconstruction of Prague’s Florence Bus Station, which began in October of last year, has been completed on time for its 61st anniversary. The station now boasts a modernised terminal with 20 new cash desks, vastly improved information and security technology and facilities for the handicapped, among other things. The total reconstruction budget was 70 million crowns.
At the Golden Spike meet on Wednesday in Ostrava, Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt recorded a time of 9.77 seconds for the 100-metres. Speaking after the race, the Jamaican sprinter said he was ‘happy’ to have got under the 10 second mark and to have run injury free. Bolt’s time would have been a record for the meeting and indeed for the Czech Republic, but the sprinter was running with a strong tailwind of 2.1 metres per second. Bolt recovered from a sluggish start to beat the rest of the field by over one quarter of a second. Afterwards, he said that he had had quite possibly the ‘second worst’ start of his whole career.
A fifth case of swine flu has been confirmed in the Czech Republic this Wednesday. Tests have confirmed that a 49-year-old man who returned to the Czech Republic from America last week is ill with the virus. According to Health Ministry spokesperson Vlastimil Sršeň, the patient is at home and recovering well. Swine flu has been registered in 85 countries around the globe. Last week, the World Health Organisation declared a global swine flu pandemic.