The centre-left coalition led by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla is trying to muster support for a parliamentary vote of approval, expected later on Wednesday. According to its policy statement released on Tuesday, the new government wants to secure Czech membership of the European Union by holding a referendum next year and carrying out legislative and institutional reforms to bring the Czech Republic in line with EU standards. The Czech Republic has closed 26 of the 30 chapters of legislation necessary for EU membership. Negotiations on the remaining chapters, which include agriculture and government finance, are expected to end by December. Although the Civic Democrat and Communist opposition who hold 99 of the 200 seats in parliament say they will not give it their support, the statement is expected to get the vote of confidence thanks to the government coalition's one-vote majority in the lower house.
The 13th round of British immigration controls at Prague's Ruzyne airport was discontinued on Tuesday. As of July 20th, British officers refused 78 people entry to the United Kingdom. In the previous round 82 people were denied entry to the UK. The controls, agreed upon by the Czech and British governments, are meant to prevent people from abusing the British asylum system. They were first introduced last summer after several waves of Czech Roma arrived in Great Britain in order to seek political asylum. This year, the asylum seekers are travelling by coaches rather than by air and many have been returned from the Czech-German border by German border authorities.
A poll conducted in neighbouring Austria by the Austrian Society for European Policy showed that the Czech Republic is the least popular post-Communist candidate for EU enlargement. Whilst 61% of respondents supported Hungary's accession to the EU, only 41% accepted the Czech Republic and Poland as future EU member states. According to the Austrian Society for European Policy, the main reason stated for the low support was the lack of contact in the past. Prague was also not forgiven for supporting EU sanctions against Vienna after the far-right Freedom Party joined the Austrian cabinet in 2000.
Former foreign minister Jan Kavan has said he is to resign from his post in the European Union Convention, the body laying the foundations for EU expansion and reform. The resignation comes two weeks after one of Mr Kavan's former aides was arrested in an alleged plot to kill a journalist, although Mr Kavan denied there was any connection with the case. He said he was giving up the post to allow more time for his positions as chairman of the U.N. General Assembly and M.P in the lower house.
The four people in custody on charges of planning to kill a journalist have also been charged with the illegal possession of firearms, the state attorney's office said on Friday. Among the four is Karel Srba, a former senior official at the Foreign Ministry Mr Srba was forced to resign when he was implicated in a scandal exposed by journalist Sabina Slonkova, the target of the alleged murder plot.
Two policemen were set upon in a run-down largely Romany area of the north Bohemian town of Most on Thursday evening. The police officers were attacked when they arrived at the scene of a street dispute involving up to 400 people. One man is being questioned in connection with the attack, during which one of the policemen suffered concussion.
Meanwhile the opposition Civic Democrats have said the governing Social Democrats are responsible for the scandal, which they say is without precedent in the history of the Czech Republic. Ex-foreign minister Jan Kavan, Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla all bear personal responsibility in the matter, Civic Democrats deputy chairman Vladimir Tlusty said on Friday. Mr Kavan gave Karel Srba a job at the Foreign Ministry, Mr Tvrdik is responsible for military intelligence, for whom Mr Srba was an agent, and Mr Spidla was responsible for the intelligence services in the last cabinet.
The Environment Minister of Upper Austria, Ursula Haubner of the far-right Freedom Party, has said she wants to start talks with the Czech Republic on the phasing out of the controversial Temelin nuclear power station which is situated close to the Austrian border. Ms Haubner suggested on Thursday that the cabinet should invite the new Czech Environment Minister, Libor Ambrozek, for negotiations in Upper Austria. The topic of their talks should be renewable sources of energy and the eventual closing down of Temelin. Mr Ambrozek said on Wednesday he wanted the controversial Temelin nuclear power plant to be the country's last and that he would ask the Czech government to adopt an energy policy that includes the complete phasing-out of nuclear power. Ms Haubner's party has welcomed Mr Ambrozek's statements saying that anti-Temelin activists had been given fresh hope in their battle to have the plant shut down.
Czech Roma asylum seekers who have been rejected political asylum abroad should not be entitled to social benefits after they return to the Czech Republic, the Government Council for Roma Affairs decided on Thursday. The council also agreed that a special police body should be established in order to deal with the widespread problem of illegal money-lending among the Czech Roma community. The number of Romanies seeking asylum in Great Britain has grown dramatically in the last few months. According to the government's human rights commissioner, Jan Jarab, excessive debt is among the reasons why Czech Roma are leaving the country.
The final wording of the government's programme for the next four years will not be ready until Monday, just one day before it is submitted to the lower house of parliament for approval. A member of the government's press department said the cabinet had not approved the programme at its meeting on Wednesday, explaining that the document still had to be completed. The new centre-left government enjoys a majority of just one seat in the lower house.