The commissioner for European Union enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has confirmed that the debate over the controversial Benes Decrees will have no impact on the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. In a joint statement drafted with Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman on Thursday the comissioner said that the decrees were no longer legally effective, adding that property restitution was not a European matter, but a matter for the Czech Republic. In recent months the Benes Decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War, had been the subject of renewed discontent among Austrian, German, and Hungarian politicians. Some had called for the annulment of the Benes decrees as a pre-EU accession requirement for the Czech Republic.
The European Union's enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen arrives in Prague on Thursday in a bid to ease tension caused by the dispute over the post-war Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of Czechoslovakia's large ethnic German community after the Second World War. Most of the expelled Germans took up residence in Austria or Bavaria, and there has been a bitter dispute in recent months over the issue of compensation. Mr Verheugen has already said the decrees will not affect the Czech Republic's bid to join the European Union, an assurance repeated by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a visit to Prague on Monday.
President Vaclav Havel has said Czech citizens will not lose their identity after the Czech Republic joins the European Union. Speaking during a visit to fellow EU candidate Malta, the Czech president said he was convinced that nations would maintain their identity within a strong European Union. Mr Havel has decided to stay in Malta for an extra 10 days as a guest of his Maltese counterpart Guido de Marco. The president decided to prolong his stay because doctors said the climate would be good for his health. Mr Havel suffers from chronic bronchitis, and underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1996.
The former leader of Austria's Freedom Party Joerg Haider said on Saturday that if his party remains in power after the elections Austria will veto the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union unless Czechs abolish the controversial post-war Benes decrees. Mr Haider also called for a referendum on EU expansion to be held in Austria.
The pre-election campaign in the Czech Republic has hit the Internet. Most political parties started launching their own websites several years ago but with the election date approaching, parties are increasingly using the Internet to promote their policies. The most popular forms of advertisement are banners, interactive games, discussion chats, video or audio recordings and also e-mails. According to a recent survey, only 30 percent of adults have regular access to the Internet but experts expect the global computer network to gradually gain more importance in election campaigns in the Czech Republic.
A light aircraft violated the no-flight zone of the Temelin nuclear power plant on Saturday morning. Army radars detected the aircraft some 25 kilometres from the centre of the zone and the pilot immediately obeyed the orders of Czech air-force pilots and returned to his planned flight route. The no-flight zones over the Temelin and Dukovany nuclear power stations were extended after the September attacks on the United States.
The dispute between Prague and Vienna over the Czech Republic's Temelin nuclear power plant has been discussed in an Austrian court for the first time. The province of Upper Austria has filed a lawsuit against Temelin's operators CEZ, in a bid to prevent the plant from going into full operation. Lawyers for Upper Austria said the province owned a strip of land close to the Czech border, and as such had the right to file suit against the possible "effects" of a nuclear accident at Temelin. If Upper Austria wins the suit, CEZ must either refrain from putting Temelin into full operation, or face a massive fine. An Austrian lawyer acting for CEZ said the case was incompatible with international law.
Speaker of Parliament Vaclav Klaus has given the green light for an up-coming amendment to the election law which would make it easier to tabulate results soon after polls in the Czech Republic close on June 15th. The amendment, which has gained wide support in parliament, would allow Czech nationals abroad to begin casting their votes a day early, to make-up for time-zone differences. That would make it possible to release early exit polls on election day soon after voting in the Czech Republic had ended.
A Czech delegation to the European Parliament has handed over a legal analysis of the controversial Benes decrees, which should help to clarify the Czech government's refusal to have them revoked. The decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans and the confiscation of property of thousands of ethnic Hungarians at the end of the SWW, have evoked fresh controversy in central Europe after Austrian and Hungarian politicians called for them to be revoked since they were not in line with present day human rights legislation. The Czech government has refused to comply with this request saying that the Benes decrees were part of a broader post-war settlement framework in Europe and any move to rescind them could have serious legal consequences.
Public support for the Czech Republic's accession to the EU has reached an all time high. According to a survey conducted by the Centre for Public Opinion Research 59% of respondents endorsed the country's efforts to join the EU, while 25% were against. When asked how they would vote in a referendum 48% of respondents said they would cast their vote in favour of entry, a record high- up from 44% in November. Both the Czech government and the EU's Information Centre in Prague have recently stepped up their efforts to dispel fears of poverty and "second-class" membership which have plagued many Czechs, especially the elderly and socially weaker groups of the population.
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