Austrian politicians have protested against EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen's statement that the post-war Benes decrees were no obstacle to the Czech Republic's EU membership. The Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero Waldner said the Commissioner's attitude was " a bit strange". On the television programme Press Hour she said the Czech side was also aware that something needed to be done and that she was confident that "a good solution" could be found. Attacks on Mr. Verheugen also came from the Freedom Party. Peter Westenthaler, Freedom Party leader in Parliament, described Mr. Verheugen's words as " a monstrous provocation to Austria". The Benes decrees sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia at the end of the SWW and some Austrian and German politicians insist that they must be revoked before the Czech Republic joins the EU .
A team of French experts has ascertained that certain regions in the Czech Republic are not properly prepared to receive EU funding. The five member team spent a week on a fact finding mission in several Czech regions and concluded that three regions in the north-eastern part of the country the Pardubice, Hradec Kralove and Liberec regions need more time and know- how before they can be trusted to make good use of EU funds.
The European Commission and the Czech Republic are discussing measures which should ensure that, upon admission, the country's annual contribution to EU coffers is not higher than the amount received in EU subsidies. EU officials agree that this might happen since the annual contribution to EU coffers is paid as a lump sum while the various EU subsidies are paid gradually. This would violate the EU solidarity principle with poorer countries. In order to avoid this the Czech Republic has asked for a transitional period during which it would pay lower annual contributions. The European Commission is against the idea and has suggested a special EU fund from which any sustained losses could be covered.
The Temelin nuclear power plant in South Bohemia is expected to restart operation of its first reactor in mid-next week - almost two months after it was shut down due to technical problems. The plant's staff will finish tests on the first reactor and prepare the second reactor for launching later next week. Meanwhile, a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency has carried out an inspection of the plant. The team's leader, David Rex Ek said after the inspection that Temelin's safety system was modern, well maintained and comparable to similar systems in Western Europe.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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