EU leaders started a two-day summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday. One
of the major tasks facing them is to discuss a last minute demand for an
exemption from part of the EU’s reforming Lisbon treaty sought by Czech
President Václav Klaus. President Klaus wants firm guarantees that the
treaty can not be used by Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after World
War II to reclaim property. Diplomatic sources told the Czech News Agency
that a deal on the exemption should be thrashed out on Thursday evening.
But Hungary, which has opposed the exemption, says it will decide on its
final stance during the summit.
The Czech Republic is the last of the EU’s 27 to ratify the Lisbon treaty which should take effect at the start of next year. Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer said on Wednesday that President Klaus had given guarantees he will not erect new barriers to ratification if his exemption is delivered and the country’s highest court gives it the all clear. The Czech Constitutional Court is expected to rule on Tuesday over a complaint about whether the Lisbon treaty is in conformity with Czech law.
Another issue for the Czech Republic at the summit is a deal framing future EU supervision of the financial sector. The Czech National Bank earlier this year came out against draft plans for this new supervision saying they were muddled and infringed on national regulation. The new rules are aimed at preventing a repeat of the financial meltdown that led to the world economic crisis. The Czech government has warned that it is prepared to fight on this issue. It said on Wednesday that its priority is for a high quality rather than a quick deal on financial regulation.
The Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl has slammed local and national authorities for allowing a landmark to fall into rack and ruin. Mr Motejl’s office has issued a damning report about how town, regional authorities and the Ministry of Culture failed to prevent the impressive Kyselka spa complex near Karlovy Vary in western Bohemia from falling into ruin over the last decade. It said the unique architectural complex built in the 19th century was a sad reminder of how a protected building could fall into disrepair if the owner and authorities did nothing.
Thousands of dairy farmers across the Czech Republic poured milk down drains and onto fields on Thursday to protest the low prices they are being paid. The protest organised by the Agricultural Chamber aimed at disposing of around half a million litres of milk, or around 7.0 percent of daily production. Farmers say they are being paid just over five crowns a litre for milk, around half of the price they need to break even. Potato growers also joined some demonstrations. They say land devoted to potato cultivation has fallen by 20 percent over the last decade because of insufficient support.
Czech breweries have said they are preparing a complaint to the country’s constitutional court over a planned increase of duty on beer. Duty on half a litre of beer should rise by half a crown from January as part of the government’s package to curb the 2010 budget. The deputy head of the Czech Beer and Malt Association, Jiří Fusek, said the rise threatened the existence of some companies which is some cases would have to bear the brunt of the increase because of fixed long-term contracts with suppliers. He said brewers would turn to the European Union and Brussels if they failed in their legal fight at home.
Six more students studying at a high school in the south Bohemian town of České Budějovice have been confirmed with swine fever. This means that 14 students and two adults from the school have come down with swine flu. The school students are believed to have become infected on a school trip to Bavaria. The infected students have been quarantined at home. Swine flu claimed its first victim this month when a woman from Karlovy Vary died following infection.
The Czech Republic’s biggest exporter, car producer Škoda Auto, announced a 67.5 percent drop in net profit during the first three quarters of the year compared with the same period in 2008. Net profit totalled 2.8 billion crowns for the nine months ending September against 5.8 billion in 2008. Sales of cars have fallen 5.0 percent year-on-year with total turnover down 13.0 percent at 137.6 billion crowns. There was however some encouragement from the third quarter. Car sales totalled 174,984, a 6.4 percent jump on 2008.
Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer is to visit Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on November 13 and 14, the government announced on Thursday. Talks are likely to focus on the treaty between the Vatican and Czech Republic negotiated at the end of the 1990’s but still not ratified. The lower house of parliament refused approval in 2003. The treaty would aim to update relations between church and state in areas such as education, healthcare, cultural and social affairs. The Vatican has already said that it will not press its demands for compensation for assets confiscated by the former Communist regime due to the current economic crisis.
In ice hockey, there have been some big managerial changes in the league. Sparta Prague have sacked the managing tandem of Pavel Hynek and František Výborný. Výborný is heading to České Budějovice where first team coach Jan Tlačil has been sacked from his coaching post. The two teams have had poor results since the start of the season. Sparta lies ninth and České Budějovice tenth in the 14-strong league.
Prime Minister Jan Fischer told journalists in Prague on Wednesday that President Klaus had assured him in person he would sign the Lisbon treaty if the Constitutional Court ruled it was in line with Czech law and if the Czech Republic was granted an opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights attached to the treaty. The opt-out is to ensure that Germans expelled from former Czechoslovakia after WWII cannot seek to reclaim their property in European courts. Mr. Fischer said that the president has assured him he would have no other conditions and would not further delay the treaty’s ratification.