The Foreign Ministry plans to close the Czech Consulate in Montreal in a bid to cut costs, and in retaliation to Ottawa’s decision to impose visas for Czechs, the daily Mladá fronta Dnes reported on Monday. The ministry plans to shut embassies in Harare and Luanda as well, the newspaper says. Foreign Minister Jan Kohout has refused to comment on the Canadian consulate closure, all he would say was that cuts were being prepared at diplomatic missions around the world. In May, the Czech Republic closed its honourary consulate in Vancouver. In July, Ottawa re-imposed visa restrictions for Czechs after hundreds of Czech Roma applied for asylum in Canada.
The Czech Senate has, as expected, approved an austerity package which will lower the budget deficit in 2010 by 60 billion crowns (3.5 billion USD) to around 5.3 percent of GDP. The package, which raises some taxes and lowers the salaries of many state employees, awaits the president’s signature before it comes into effect. The set of cost-cutting measures, presented by Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s cabinet to the lower house nine days ago, were approved by 61 of the 68 senators present. According to news agency ČTK, a vote on next year’s state budget could now take place any time after December 9.
The Social Democrats, meanwhile, have said that they will not support Finance Minister Eduard Janota’s new austerity package for 2011 in its current form. Party leader Jiří Paroubek said that planned cuts in benefits and savings incentives were ‘inadmissible’ and urged the interim government to incorporate progressive taxation into next year’s austerity package. The lower house recently approved an austerity package for 2010, which will cut next year’s budget deficit by 60 billion crowns (3.5 billion USD) to 163 billion crowns. Next year’s budget deficit is predicted to come to 5.3 percent of GDP, with Finance Minister Eduard Janota aiming to keep the budget deficit in 2011 to no more than 5.5 percent of GDP.
Some 43 percent of Czechs think that eurosceptic President Václav Klaus should sign the EU’s Lisbon treaty ‘immediately’, suggests a poll conducted by the SANEP Agency and released on Monday. The poll suggested that 44 percent of Czechs believe that further postponing Lisbon ratification harms the Czech Republic’s reputation in Europe. Thirty-seven percent of those polled agreed with the Czech president’s current stance on Lisbon, while 19 percent said that they did not have an opinion on the matter. President Václav Klaus has previously said that he wants to be the last person to put his signature to the document in Europe. Now that Ireland has voted yes to Lisbon in a referendum held last Friday, and Polish President Lech Kaczynski has said he will sign the document, the Czech Republic will in all probability be the last country in Europe to ratify the reform document.
In related news, on a state visit to Albania on Monday, Czech President Václav Klaus repeated that he would not sign the Lisbon treaty until the Czech Constitutional Court had reached a verdict on the document. When asked by an Albanian journalist about his opposition to the treaty which could, it was suggested, pave the way for Albanian membership of the EU, the notoriously eurosceptic Czech president said that it was a myth that EU enlargement could only happen after Lisbon ratification. Mr Klaus criticized Brussels bureaucrats who, he said, were intentionally spreading such myths. Mr Klaus is in Albania to discuss Czech-Albanian relations and trade links between the two countries.
Around 30 pilots have accepted the national carrier Czech Airlines’ redundancy package and handed in their notice, airline spokesperson Hana Hejsková told journalists on Monday. The troubled firm’s 530 pilots have been asked to accept pay cuts of 45 percent and an end to all bonuses in a bid to stem debts. Those who have decided to quite will receive 12 months’ salary, news agency ČTK reports. Altogether, 400 of Czech Airlines’ 4600 employees have taken the firm up on its pay-out offer and left. Airline CEO Radomír Lašák envisages 860 redundancies at ČSA as part of the firm’s restructuring plan.
Meanwhile, economist Jan Švejnar enjoys the highest rate of public support amongst possible candidates for the Czech Republic’s next EU commissioner, a poll conducted by the SANEP Agency has found. Some 32 percent of Czechs said they favoured Mr Švejnar as the country’s next commissioner, while former Czech commissioner Pavel Telička came second with a support rating of 26 percent. Fourteen percent of those polled said they wanted former European Affairs Minister Alexandr Vondra to be the country’s next representative at the European Commission while current commissioner Vladimir Špidla came fourth. Prime Minister Jan Fischer said that his government would decide on who should fill the position by October 20.
A meeting tabled by the head of the Civic Democrats Mirek Topolánek to discuss Prime Minister Jan Fischer’s mandate will not be attended by leaders of the Social Democrats, the Greens, and Prime Minister Jan Fischer himself, Novinky.cz reported on Monday. Mr Topolánek wanted to discuss making possible changes to the interim cabinet, which was originally decided upon by the Social Democrats and Civic Democrats in spring, but the idea met with little enthusiasm from Jiří Paroubek’s Social Democrats. It is now unclear whether Monday evening’s meeting will go ahead at all, Novinky.cz says. On Monday morning, head of the Greens Ondřej Liška said that there was no point in going if Jiří Paroubek and Mr Fischer himself would not be there. It is now thought that representatives of the Civic Democrats, the Christian Democrats and TOP 09 will be the only politicians to attend the discussion, should it go ahead.
Václav Klaus is to meet his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on October 14 in Moscow, the Czech president’s website announced on Monday. During his visit to Moscow, Mr Klaus is also set to launch the Russian version of his book ‘Blue Planet in Green Shackles’, the website reported. According to diplomatic sources, Mr Klaus agreed on a visit to Russia with Mr Medvedev at an EU summit the former chaired in Khabarovsk in May. The two heads of state are expected to discuss economic relations in particular, the Czech media has reported.
Deputy Chairman of the Social Democrats Bohuslav Sobotka and former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg are the most popular politicians in the Czech Republic currently, suggests a poll released by the STEM agency on Monday. Fifty-one percent of respondents assessed both politicians positively, while founder of TOP 09 Miroslav Kalousek came next, with a rating of 43 percent. The poll seemed to suggest that disputes in September on the date of the country’s next general election had almost no bearing on individual politicians’ popularity. In the poll, Mr Sobotka’s standing is down five percent from its position in June, when the last such study was conducted, while the former foreign minister’s rating remains unchanged.