The Czech ambassador to the EU, Milena Vicenová, has met with representatives of the European Commission, as well as her Canadian counterpart Ross Hornby, to discuss Canada’s recent decision to reinstate visas for Czech nationals. Canada took the decision on July 14 in reaction to the high number of Czechs, mostly from the Roma community, filing asylum applications. Mrs Vicenová said after the meeting that the EC had voiced support for the Czech Republic. The Czechs have asked Canada for changes, including the following: for its nationals to not have to travel to Vienna for visas or to fill-in more detailed paperwork than other EU members. The Czech Republic also asked that Canada provide a thorough explanation of its decision to reintroduce visas.
In related news, EU representatives will discuss the issue of Canadian visas on Monday, with an EC source telling journalists that the commission expected EU countries would voice “strong solidarity” with the Czech Republic, the Czech news agency ČTK reported. Both Foreign Minister Jan Kohout and EU Affairs Minister Štefan Fuele will represent the Czech Republic at that meeting. The Czechs want to ask the European Commission and EU member states for support to persuade Canada to lift visa requirements. Canada reintroduced visas for Czechs after almost two years of visa-free relations. The Czech Republic responded to Canada’s decision by introducing visa requirements for Canadian diplomats.
The Senate has passed an amendment to the tobacco act, requiring restaurant and pub-owners to choose between allowing – or banning - smoking on their premises. The amendment is a long-sought compromise among lawmakers but one that has come under criticism. Anti-smoking activists charge it should have gone farther, while opponents say it violates personal freedoms. If signed by the president and passed into law, restaurants will be required to display clearly whether or not smoking is allowed within. Besides outlining provisions for restaurateurs, the bill defines public areas where smoking is banned and sees tougher sanctions for anyone selling tobacco or alcohol to minors.
The age of criminal responsibility in the Czech Republic appears set to remain at 15, after an amendment to the country’s criminal code passed in the Senate on Friday. The new code, which comes into effect in January, had counted on lowering the age of criminal responsibility, as well as sexual consent, by one year. The right-of-centre Civic Democratic Party had pushed for the age to remain at 14 but failed with its own proposal. The bill must be signed by President Václav Klaus to come into effect. In the past he has called the idea of lowering the age of criminal responsibility “debatable”.
The country’s Central Flood Commission has admitted that areas hit by
flash floods at the end of June should have received warning more quickly,
the financial daily Hospodářské noviny has reported. According to the
daily, the commission is recommending that the government set aside 30
million crowns (the equivalent of around 1.6 million US dollars) to better
integrate communication between fire fighters and weather specialists in
the future. The head of the commission, Environment Minister Ladislav
explained that a key meteorological website had been down at crucial
moments during the crisis. According to the daily, local mayors were not
warned in advance of the danger. Meteorologists, meanwhile, have countered
by saying that flash floods were not easy to predict - sometimes with only
two hours advance warning or less.
The flash floods in the Czech Republic, which began in June, claimed 14 lives and caused between five to six billion crowns in damage.
Stormy weather, including strong winds, which hit parts of the Czech Republic on late Thursday afternoon saw two people killed in separate incidents, while a third suffered serious injury. A 75-year-old woman was found dead in the Liberec region – after having been hit by falling branches. Another, a 25-year-old man, drowned after a raft he was on capsized. In a third incident, a boy was hit by a falling tree. He was taken to hospital in serious condition. Storms on Thursday also caused damage to infrastructure: railway routes had to be cleared leading to dozens of delays; electricity was also down in places.
President Václav Klaus has criticised EU officials in an interview for the Czech daily Lidové noviny, recalling meetings he chaired as head-of-state during the Czech EU presidency. In the first half of this year, Mr Klaus chaired summits between the EU and Japan, as well as China, South Korea, and Russia, but said he had been “absolutely frustrated” when dealing with officials like the head of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso, Javier Solana, and others. He charged their words “lacked content” and amounted to empty statements. The Czech president is a well-known critic of Brussels, one who is fiercely opposed to the EU’s Lisbon treaty, aimed at reforming the running of the 27-member bloc.
In related news, members of the Czech Senate have called on a group of senators within the Civic Democratic Party to either put forward their constitutional complaint against the Lisbon treaty now or shelve the matter. 22 Civic Democrat senators, including Jiří Oberfalzer and Jaroslav Kubera, are planning to put forward the challenge - the second time the matter would be dealt with by the Constitutional Court. Originally, Senator Jiří Oberfalzer told Czech Radio the complaint would be put forward in the first half of August, but others have suggested the matter could be delayed. Senators calling on the group not to delay are members of Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, and the newest Czech political party, TOP 09.
Members of the Social Democratic Party have charged that Czech President Václav Klaus, as well as a group of senators from the Civic Democratic Party preparing to challenge the Lisbon treaty, could threaten the post of Czech EU commissioner. At a press conference on Friday, Social Democrat MEP Jiří Havel warned that the Treaty of Nice would continue to be valid if Lisbon failed - meaning the Czechs could end up losing the post. On Friday Mr Havel made clear he favoured current Czech EU commissioner, Social Democrat Vladimír Špidla, continuing in the job, while deputy party leader Bohuslav Sobotka mentioned both Mr Špidla and the Czech-American economist Jan Švejnar as possible candidates. Czech politicians have so far been unable to agree on a joint candidate for EU commissioner. The country’s two largest parties – the Social and Civic Democrats – are expected to negotiate on a candidate after the election in October.
Members of the Social Democratic Party have put forward a manifesto calling for change in the party’s direction, the daily Právo has reported. The so-called Vyšehrad Proclamation, signed by Social Democrats Karel Šplíchal and Erazim Kohák among others, protests what the signatories refer to as excessive focus in the party on marketing and trading in top slots on the party’s ballot for early elections this autumn. Party leader Jíři Paroubek was under fire recently for pushing popular public figures to the top of the party’s lists of candidates. The Social Democrats were defeated by their main rivals the Civic Democratic Party in elections to the European Parliament in June.