Czech EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fulle says the EU has not closed its doors to Ukraine but the country’s drawn out crisis must be resolved ahead of an association agreement with the EU. In an interview for Czech Radio Mr. Fulle said that if the EU wanted Ukraine’s transformation then it should offer Kiev an association agreement and eventually EU membership since enlargement was the strongest transformation tool available. He said however that further steps in this direction were not possible until Ukraine found a lasting and democratic solution to the present crisis.
New screening technology is enabling EU airports to roll back the tight restrictions on passengers carrying liquids, aerosols and gels in their carry-on luggage. The heightened security measures, effective as of February 1st, are in line with an EC directive. Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport has acquired 18 stationary and two mobile scanners for gels and liquids worth ten million crowns. A spokesman for the airport said the new checks have not led to significant delays or caused any problems.
Clean up work is underway in north Bohemia where hurricane-force winds damaged roofs and uprooted trees on Friday night. Fire crews were called out to deal with twenty-three emergencies in the course of the night and emergency crews have been clearing fallen trees from roads and rail tracks. A hurricane warning remains in force for the eastern parts of the country until Sunday morning.
The National Security Office has protested against a wave of security clearance requests from soldiers in the Czech military for whom a clean screening certificate means a higher salary. The office says it is unable to process such a vast number of requests and needs to give priority to those who require security vetting for a given post. While in 2011 the military asked for close to 1,800 security screenings, last year it sent over 3,000 requests.
The association of towns and cities wants to take effective measures against metal theft which has become a serious problem around the country. Thieves steal objects made of lead, copper, iron, steel, and aluminum, selling them in scrap yards which generally accept the goods without question. Mayors are proposing that scrap yards should only be allowed to buy metal from companies not individuals. In the course of last year thieves stole metal objects worth half a billion crowns, mainly copper cables and rail tracks.
Police in the town of Liberec are bracing for possible problems in connection with an ultra-right concert which is to take place at the Rock Pub club in the city centre. The concert by the nationalist group Sons of Bohemia is expected to attract extreme right supporters from around the country. Other clubs in town are closing their doors in protest of the event.
The Lochkovsky tunnel on the Prague ring-road is closed for repairs over the weekend and drivers have been asked to use the cities southern ring road instead. The tunnel was seriously damaged by a burning truck in mid-January after which it remained open to traffic in one lane only. The damage was estimated at 6 million crowns. The tunnel should be open to traffic by mid-day Sunday.
The newly-appointed centre-left cabinet is reviewing a number of proposed bills prepared by the former interim administration of Jiří Rusnok. According to the daily Právo several draft bills which would otherwise have been slated for debate in Parliament next week will be swept off the table. They include a proposed draft law on civil service which the Rusnok cabinet prepared as an alternative to that currently being debated in the lower house, a draft law on the appointment of professors and a draft law on the composition of the army and salaries in the military. The matter is to be debated at Monday’s cabinet meeting.
The new labour and social affairs minister, Michaela Marksová-Tominová of the Social Democrats, is planning to disallow payments into private pension funds by 2016. The introduction of the so-called second pillar of the pension system was a key feature of the previous centre-right coalition government’s efforts to reform the pension system. Ms Marksová-Tominová told reporters a team of coalition and opposition politicians along with experts should start working on a new reform of the system. Around 84,000 people have joined the second pillar, sending part of their monthly social insurance payments to private funds.
Environment Minister Richard Brabec, who took over his portfolio on Friday morning, has outlined his priorities. Mr. Brabec said he planned to travel to Šumava at the earliest opportunity to stabilize the situation at the Šumava National Park and try and secure the return of experts who left their posts amid a row over the park’s future. The newly-appointed environment minister also said he wanted to address the persisting problem of air-pollution in Moravia and Silesia and improve the drawing of EU funds in the environment sector.
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