The Czech senate has unanimously approved a bill that should allow Czechs to vote in a referendum next year to decide the Czech Republic's entry to the European Union. Submitted on Thursday by members of the Senate Commission for the Constitution, the draft amendment outlines the rules for Czech EU accession; under the bill, the referendum will be held 3 months following the signature of the Czech Republic's signing of the EU accession treaty, set to take place in the first half of 2003. Czech parliament must now also pass the bill; a failure to do so would leave the decision on EU accession up to parliament alone.
President Vaclav Havel, who's on a state visit to the United States, has met the US President George Bush in the White House for talks on the fight against terrorism and the upcoming NATO summit which will take place in Prague. Representatives of 19 NATO members together with other 27 countries participating in the Partnership for Peace programme will meet in the Czech capital at the end of November. Mr Havel is accompanied on his visit by Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik, the Czech Ambassador to the US, Martin Palous, and the NATO summit chief organiser, Alexander Vondra. Taking part in the talks are also Mr Bush's National Security Advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and the US Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Craig Stapleton.
Leaders of all three parties in the Czech ruling coalition signed an amendment to their coalition agreement on Wednesday to end a crisis threatening the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. The coalition came close to breaking apart last Friday, when an MP from the right-of-centre Freedom Union voted against the government's tax reform bill, designed to raise money to pay for damage caused by the recent devastating floods. To punish the party for the renegade deputy, Mr Spidla initially planned to sack all three Freedom Union cabinet members. But he changed his mind after the Freedom Union threatened to pull out of the coalition. The new agreement calls for more discussion in future among the parties ahead of key votes. In exchange, the Freedom Union has guaranteed that all 10 of its members in the lower house will vote along government lines on key issues.
Before his departure Mr Havel said he would be pushing for NATO to take in seven post-Communist states in meetings with senior U.S. officials. The Czech President said he wanted NATO to accept Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three Baltic states at its forthcoming summit in Prague. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became the first post-Communist countries to join the alliance in 1999.
Before his departure Mr Havel said he would be pushing for NATO to take in seven post-Communist states in meetings with senior U.S. officials. The Czech President said he wanted NATO to accept Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three Baltic states at its forthcoming summit in Prague. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland became the first post-Communist countries to join the alliance in 1999. The Czech Air Force said on Tuesday that U.S. jets would take part in the security operation for the summit.
Two former high ranking communist party officials are on trial for their part in the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. Milous Jakes, former general secretary of the Czechoslovak communist party and Jozef Lenart, former communist prime minister, face charges of treason for attempting to legalize the Soviet led invasion through the formation of a "workers' government" which would have replaced the existing government. The proposal was rejected by the former Czechoslovak president Ludvik Svoboda . Both officials, now in their 80s, plead innocent of the charges leveled against them. Mr. Lenart said in his defense that he had been informed about the plan to form a workers' government by Soviet embassy officials and had merely relayed the proposal to then President Svoboda. The court case has generated enormous media interest.
In a related development Hana Marvanova on Monday resigned from the post of deputy speaker of Parliament. She did so under pressure from her own party, the Freedom Union, after jeopardizing its position in the ruling coalition. Although the party has asked Mrs Marvanova to resign her deputy post in Parliament as well, she refuses to do so on the grounds that as deputy she is answerable to her electorate and must abide by her election promises .
Leaders of the three-party ruling coalition are holding emergency talks in an attempt to diffuse a row that threatens to split the center-left cabinet. The two month old coalition government is up against its first serious crisis following Parliament's rejection of proposed flood-related tax hikes last Friday. The proposed tax-reform fell through when Freedom Union deputy Hana Marvanova broke ranks with the coalition to honor an election pledge not to raise taxes. The embarrassing one-vote defeat has underlined the fragility of the present ruling coalition and led to emergency talks on a Cabinet reshuffle. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla has called on the three Freedom Union ministers to resign and hinted that he may decide to form a minority government with the Christian Democrats that would rely on tacit support from the Communist Party. President Havel, who is due to leave on an official visit to the United States on Tuesday, is meeting the three party leaders on Monday evening in a last minute effort to help resolve the crisis.
The governing three-party coalition is likely to continue, but
with a reduced role in cabinet for the right-of-centre Freedom
Union, the party's deputy leader Robert Kolar said
on Sunday. The coalition was rocked on Friday, when the Freedom Union's
Hana Marvanova voted against a government tax bill, and then refused to
give up her seat in the Chamber of Deputies. The prime minister and leader
of the Social Democrats, Vladimir Spidla, has been holding talks
with the chairman of the Freedom Union, Ivan Pilip, and the leader
of the Christian Democrats, Cyril Svoboda, to try and find a way out
of the current crisis.
The coalition has a majority of one in the 200-seat lower house, and the Freedom Union currently have three ministerial seats. Mr Kolar said his party were likely to lose one or two seats in cabinet. It had appeared on Saturday that Prime Minister Spidla would attempt to form a minority coalition with the Christian Democrats alone.
The Czech racing driver Tomas Enge has won the Formula 3000 championship, after finishing first in the Formula 3000 Grand Prix in Italy on Saturday. However, Mr Enge may be stripped of the title in two week's time, if motor racing's governing body punishes him for failing a drug test after the Hungarian Grand Prix in August. Traces of cannabis were found in his blood after the race.
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