Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer met with European Commission President
José Manuel Barroso on Tuesday afternoon. The talks were supposed to focus
on the choice and responsibilities of the next Czech EU Commissioner. But
they were overshadowed by President Václav Klaus’ last minute objections
to the EU’s Lisbon treaty. President Klaus has demanded a firm guarantee
that the treaty’s Charter of Fundamental Rights could not be used by
Germans expelled from former Czechoslovakia after WWII to reclaim property.
Mr Barroso warned that Czech interests would not be served by further
delaying ratification of the treaty if its constitutional court had no
problems with it.
The Czech government on Monday agreed to present President Klaus’ demands at a summit of EU leaders at the end of the month, but only as long as these are his last demands. The Lisbon treaty should take effect at the start of 2010 but first has to be ratified by all 27 EU states. The Czech Republic is the last in line.
Some European leaders have reacted negatively to President Klaus’ Lisbon treaty demand. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov described it as impossible to accept or tolerate during a visit to Paris on Monday. He said French President Nicolas Sarkozy shared the same view. A spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry said it was still seeking clarification about what President Klaus was asking for, but if he wanted changes to the Lisbon treaty then that was out of the question.
Staying with Lisbon, the Czech Constitution Court announced that it will hold a public hearing into the complaint against the treaty lodged by a group of senators. The hearing will take place on October 27. This means it is likely that a decision on the complaint could come the same day or at least soon afterwards. A court spokesman said that the public hearing will be held regardless of whether the senators make a further submission aimed at widening their existing complaint. Czech media reported on Tuesday that the mostly right-leaning senators will submit further material aimed at broadening their existing complaint by the end of this week.
The Czech Ministry of Industry called on Tuesday for the abolition of current environmental limits on mining brown coal in the country. The call came in a proposal on how the Czech power sector will evolve until 2050. As well as breaching the mining limits, the proposal seeks an expansion of nuclear power with two new nuclear blocks at the current Temelín plant in South Bohemia counted on as well as new capacity at the existing Dukovany nuclear plant. The ministry sees nuclear as the main source of energy by 2050 when it should provide 25 percent of the country’s basic energy needs. The other main sources would be gas, oil, brown coal and renewables. The proposals are likely to be opposed by environmentalists. The ministry wants the current caretaker government to either decide on a long term energy policy itself or have a finalised proposal ready for its successor following elections in the middle of next year.
The Czech Republic and Austria signed an agreement on Tuesday over how their different types of forestry management could counter the spread of the timber-damaging bark beetle. The two sides have literally been at loggerheads with the Austrians criticising the Czechs for their policy of leaving some parts of forest along the border to rot and rejuvenate naturally. They say this has promoted the beetle’s spread. Under the agreement signed by Czech environment minister Ladislav Miko and his Austrian counterpart, Nikolaus Berlakovich, the two sides agreed to monitor the state of the forest and spread of the beetle on both sides of the border. A 200-metre wide protection area will also be introduced at certain points along the border where rotten trees will be removed and natural enemies of the beetle encouraged. In addition, the Austrians pledged not to leave bald patches of forest which result in damage to Czech trees during storms.
The Czech Ministry of Environment announced Tuesday that it had sold 3.5 million emissions allowances to the Austrian government. No details of the price of the allowances stemming from the Czech Republic’s surplus for the 2008-2012 trading period were given. The latest deal takes Czech state sales of excess emissions allowances to 63.5 million. The two previous contracts were for 40 million allowances to the Japanese government and 20 million for the Mitsui company. This leaves the Czechs with 36.5 million allowances unsold. Czech environment ministry spokesman Jakub Kaspar said on Tuesday that a fourth deal should follow Wednesday with the Spanish government. Another two contracts are in the pipeline by the end of the year, he added.
Home tagging and electronic monitoring of prisoners has been cleared to start in the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Justice said on Tuesday. It was approved by the government on Monday, it added. Home tagging will be introduced first and be used for those sentenced to less serious crimes, such as minor instances of theft. The ministry believes the steps will help reduce the pressure on already overcrowded prisons. The ministry reported in August that prison capacity is exceeded by 14 percent. The prison population at the start of July stood at around 22,000.
Tuesday’s edition of the business daily Hospodářské noviny reported that Russian power company Tvel wants to build its first foreign plant for producing nuclear fuel rods in the Czech Republic. The paper described the daughter company of state-owned group Rosatom as wanting to better place itself for further expansion in Western Europe and to get key Czech contracts. It adds that Rosatom is the favourite to clinch a multi-billion crown contract to build two new nuclear blocks at the Temelín plant in South Bohemia. The Czech Republic is largely dependent on imports of Russian gas and oil with further reliance a sensitive issue. Tvel already supplies fuel rods to Czech power giant ČEZ.
The main pilots union at struggling state-controlled airlines Czech Airlines has declared that it will accept a 30 percent pay cut but only if the carrier is not privatised, the Czech News Agency reported on Tuesday. Swingeing cuts in pilots’ pay are part of the management’s restructuring plans but have been resisted so far. The Czech Ministry of Finance is currently weighing up the sole bid for around 90 percent of Czech Airlines from the Unimex-Travel Service Consortium. The government should give its verdict on whether the sale can go ahead by the end of the month.
The Czech cabinet met on Monday to discuss President Václav Klaus’s conditions for signing the Lisbon treaty. After the meeting, Prime Minister Jan Fischer said that his government was willing to negotiate with lawmakers in Brussels to have Mr Klaus’s conditions met, but, the prime minister added, he would first need a guarantee from Mr Klaus that this was truly the Czech president’s last request. Mr Fischer said that he would discuss Mr Klaus’s demands at an EU summit at the end of October. Mr Klaus has said he will only sign the EU reform document if the Czech Republic is granted a special opt-out that would prevent ethnic Germans forced out of their homes after WWII from claiming back their property. The Czech Republic is the last country in the European Union to ratify the Lisbon treaty, designed to streamline decision-making in the 27-nation bloc. Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer has said Prague will ratify the Lisbon treaty by the end of the year.