US Vice-President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Prague on Thursday evening ahead of talks with Czech political leaders. Mr Biden’s visit follows the cancellation of plans for a US radar base on Czech territory that would have been part of an anti-missile shield. As well as that topic, he is expected to discuss efforts by the American company Westinghouse to win a tender to supply reactors for nuclear power stations in the Czech Republic. On Friday Mr Biden will hold talks with Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer and President Václav Klaus. He will also meet important figures from the worlds of politics, business and culture at the US ambassador’s residence in Prague.
The lower house of the Czech Parliament has again adjourned a debate on a draft budget for 2010. After devoting several hours to the matter both on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, a vote has been postponed until Friday. Though several speakers have criticised it, MPs from almost all parties are expected to approve in the first reading a budget with a deficit of CZK 162.7 billion (around USD 9.4 billion). That amounts to 5.3 percent of gross domestic product. Compared to this year’s budget, revenues in next year’s will drop by 8.2 percent, while expenditures will increase by 2.8 percent.
Meanwhile, the government wants to increase the budget deficit for 2009 from CZK 38.1 billion to 52.2 billion, just a few days after itself approving the former figure. However, the Ministry of Finance says that because of the economic crisis this year’s real deficit could in the end be significantly higher than 52.2 billion.
Thursday’s session of the Chamber of Deputies was briefly interrupted when the minister of justice, Daniela Kovářová, collapsed. Former health minister David Rath and MP Boris Šťastný, both doctors, offered her medical assistance before she was helped from the lower house. The speaker ordered that camera crews not record the incident, as it would be unethical.
The Czech Republic has seen what appears to be its first death caused by
swine flu. A woman with a heart problem died on Thursday after evidently
contracting the disease; her condition was already serious and the
swine flu caused fatal complications, said a spokesperson for the hospital
in Karlovy Vary where the death occurred. A Ministry of Health
said further tests were needed before the diagnosis could be confirmed.
Another patient, a man aged around 30, is reported to be in a serious condition with apparent swine flu at the same hospital. He too was already suffering from serious health problems before evidently contracting the H1N1 virus. To date around 300 cases of the disease have been recorded in the Czech Republic.
The right of centre Civic Democrats have hit out at the Social Democrats’ refusal to back their choice as the Czech Republic’s European commissioner, Alexandr Vondra. Civic Democrats’ leader Mirek Topolánek said it would make sense for the two biggest parties to agree on a candidate. Otherwise, he said, whoever wins elections next spring might seek to replace the Czech commissioner. The Social Democrats are putting forward Vladimír Špidla, who is currently the commissioner for social affairs. Originally EU states were due to put forward their choices at a summit in Brussels next week. However, the fact the Czech Republic has yet not ratified the Lisbon treaty means the matter has been postponed until a later EU meeting.
The leader of the party Top 09 Karel Schwarzenberg says a condition put
forward by Czech President Václav Klaus for signing the Lisbon treaty
effect has damaged relations with Austria. President Klaus wants the Czech
Republic to receive an opt-out from the document’s Charter of
Rights, which he says could lead to property claims from Germans expelled
from Czechoslovakia after World War II. Mr Schwarzenberg said at a
conference on Czech foreign policy that the president’s demand had
“opened a front” in relations with Austria over a sensitive issue. He
said it had also damaged relations with Hungary.
The Czech Constitutional Court is due to rule next Tuesday on whether the Lisbon treaty is in line with Czech law. If it gives the document the green light, the Czech prime minister, Jan Fischer, will ask EU leaders to grant Mr Klaus the opt-out – if he in turn promises not to attempt to block Lisbon in any other way. Without the Czech president’s signature, the treaty, which has already been ratified by the other 26 EU states, cannot come into effect.
A Czech judge is set to once again handle what has become known as the “judicial mafia” case, after the Constitutional Court overturned a ruling by the High Court. A number of senior figures in the Czech judicial system filed a complaint against former state attorney Marie Benešová after she accused them of being a judicial mafia and interfering in a case involving former deputy prime minister Jiří Čunek. The group filed a complaint against Mrs Benešová which was later thrown out by judge Vojtěch Cepl, who said they had held several meetings when the Čunek case was ongoing and had wrongfully exchanged information. The High Court later ruled that Mr Cepl had handled the matter incorrectly and removed him from the case. Marie Benešová complained against that decision and her complaint was held by the Constitutional Court on Thursday.
Professor Václav Hampl will stay on as president of Prague’s Charles University for another four-year term. He was the only candidate for the post, and received the backing of 12 of the university’s 17 faculties in a vote on Wednesday. Professor Hampl, who is 47, originally specialised in physiology. Charles University, which was founded in the mid 14th century, has over 50,000 students.
The EU President, Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt has said he
feels confident that Czech President Václav Klaus will complete
ratification of the Lisbon treaty if he receives his desired opt-out from
the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Speaking at a news briefing, Mr
Reinfeldt said that he was currently working with Czechs at various levels
to see that the exemption is made. Swedish media reported on Wednesday that
the statement was based on a recent conversation between Mr Reinfelt and Mr
Klaus. The Czech President at the weekend admitted for the first time that
Lisbon ratification was probably unstoppable.
In order for the EU reform treaty to take effect if must be ratified by each of the 27 EU states. The eurosceptic Czech President not yet signed it, and recently conditioned his endorsement on an exemption similar to the ones received by Poland and the UK. Mr Klaus says he is concerned that without such an exemption, the post-WWII Beneš Decrees expelling German property owners from Czechoslovakia could be ruled on by EU courts.