The EC negotiator for the Czech Republic, Rutger Wissels said on Monday that the closing of the economic competition chapter during EU accession talks may be hampered by the Czech Republic's failure to speed up the restructuring of the steel sector. According to Mr Wissels, Prague is reluctant to realise that restructuring is necessary in order for the Czech steel industry to survive. He added that talks with the Trade and Industry Ministry were not going forward and that his colleagues were upset that the Czech side viewed the EC's proposed methods of solution as harmful.
Austria's right-wing Freedom Party has renewed criticism of the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant, saying it would push for a veto against Czech European Union membership, unless the plant is shut down. In an Austrian parliamentary debate on Thursday Freedom Party member Peter Westenthaler reminded parliament members that it was his party that represented the voice of more than 900, 000 Austrians who signed an anti-Temelin petition in January. His statement drew rebuttals from the opposition Social Democratic Party's Josef Cap, who argued that threatening the Czech Republic with a veto on EU accession would not increase Temelin's safety.
NATO Secretary General George Robertson has said the NATO summit in Prague this November will be a "defining moment" which will begin a transformation of the alliance. Mr Robertson made the comments at a press conference after meeting with students at Prague's Charles University; saying the changes would make NATO better suited for the security challenges of the 21st century. The secretary general also emphasised that the transformation would include the participation of Russia, though it is not yet clear just how that country will fit into the overall picture. Mr Robertson is currently in the Czech Republic to examine preparations for the upcoming summit, which will see the leaders of 19 member states meet to discuss alliance expansion, the modernisation of national defence, and the development of new strategies in the fight against terrorism.
A Czech anti-chemical unit has arrived in Kuwait to take part in the United States-led military campaign entitled 'Enduring Freedom'. A plane carrying almost all of the 250 soldiers who will take part in the campaign arrived in Kuwait on Tuesday morning. The soldiers were taken to the camp at Dauha where they are to spend the next six months. Czech anti-chemical troops are said to be among the best in the world.
A public opinion poll conducted by the GfK Prague agency at the end of February and beginning of March showed that a little under two-thirds of Czech citizens intend to cast their votes at the general elections in June. Estimates from experts in the field, however, are more positive, expecting up to 75% of the population to vote. This would bring figures closer to those recorded in 1998, when 74% of Czech citizens voted at the parliamentary elections.
A member of the European Parliament and representative of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, Daniela Raschhof said on Monday that the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, had "gone down on his knees" before Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman. Mrs Raschhof's remark came in response to Mr Verheugen's refusal to make the Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia, an EU problem. Mrs Raschhof added that Mr Verheugen should have waited for the European Parliament to present its view on the Benes decrees before assuring Prime Minister Zeman that the decrees would not influence EU enlargement. The failure to do so proved Mr Verheugen's 'ignorance', Mrs Raschhof said.
A fresh Czech contingent has been deployed in Kosovo, near Pristina. The Czech soldiers replaced British troops in the region. They now control a major road between the Kosovo administrative centre Pristina and the South-Serbian town of Nis with as well as a strategic border crossing. The Czech troops are responsible for border checks of people, vehicles and cargo. Altogether, there are 300 Czech troops in Kosovo who form a joint unit with 100 Slovak troops.
Britain has rejected opening the issue of the post-war Benes decrees in connection with the expansion of the European Union. Germany, Austria and Hungary have been calling for the abolition of the Benes decrees which sanctioned the expulsion of ethnic Germans and Hungarians from Czechoslovakia after World War II and allowed for confiscation of their property. Certain groups in Germany and Austria have been trying to make the Czech Republic's accession to the EU conditional on revocation of the decrees. British ambassador to the Slovakia, Roderic Todd, said on Saturday that Britain saw no reason for the Benes decrees to play a role in European enlargement.