At an intergovernmental EU conference in Brussels on Tuesday the Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda presented his country's stand on the five remaining chapters of the EU accession process. According to Mr. Svoboda Prague is still hoping to negotiate a better deal on agriculture where the proposed production quotas are far below the sector's current needs. The Czech government has given the EU negotiating team a clear mandate and fall-back positions that are regarded as a minimum for the Czech agricultural sector to be able to survive competition on EU markets. The 12 EU candidates present at the meeting all expect a positive evaluation of their membership bids in the EU's annual progress report due on October 9th.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has welcomed the outcome of an EU-commissioned report according to which the controversial Benes decrees, which sanctioned the expulsion of 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after WWII, do not pose an obstacle to Prague's bid to join the European Union. The European Parliament commissioned the study after Austrian and German politicians demanded that Prague revoke the Benes decrees since they were incompatible with EU laws. Speaking to journalists in Brussels, the Czech Foreign Minister said he hoped that this clear legal stand would remove all lingering doubts and prevent further disputes on the matter.
Czech President Vaclav Havel fired the country's ambassador to Kazakhstan on Monday, over his alleged involvement in a scandal concerning a plot to kill a leading Prague journalist. According to President Havel's spokesman, Miroslav Andr was relieved of his duties in Astana following a recommendation by Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's government. Whilst the Czech government, the President's office and the Foreign Ministry refused to give further details, Czech and Kazakh media reports have linked Mr Andr to Karel Srba - a former official at the Czech foreign ministry, who was arrested in July for allegedly leading a plot to kill newspaper reporter Sabina Slonkova. The reports claimed Mr Andr worked under Mr Srba as a military intelligence agent. Mr Andr has rejected the allegations, saying he hadn't spoken with Mr Srba since 1999.
Austrian Foreign Minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, rejected a pro-Benes decrees report presented to the European Parliament on Monday and said that Austria would continue to hold talks with the Czech Republic over the controversial decrees. The historic Benes decrees, sanctioned the expulsion and confiscation of property of some 2.5 million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. Amidst the Czech Republic's preparation for EU membership, the decrees have become a highly politicised issue by right-of centre and far-right parties in both Germany and Austria, calling for them to be repealed before the Czech Republic was allowed to become and EU member. An analysis of the decrees' compatibility with current EU legislation made for the European Parliament by a group of lawyers headed by the German Professor Jochen Frowein, however, said that the decrees could not stand in the way of the Czech Republic's accession to the EU. Mrs Ferrero-Waldner has dismissed the report, saying it focused solely on the legal aspect of the decrees and failed to consider the political and moral aspects.
The Czech Republic's accession talks with the European Union should be completed in Copenhagen by the end of this year, the EU ambassador to Prague, Ramiro Cibrian, said in Ostrava on Friday. Mr Cibrian said that the annual report on candidate countries' readiness to join the European Union - to be published in two week's time - would show that there was no doubt about the Czech Republic's suitability for membership.
The Czech Insurers' Association revealed on Thursday that the estimates of damage caused by last month's floods were reduced from 30.6 billion Czech crowns to 29.7 billion crowns. The number of flood-related claims recorded by the 17 insurance companies that are part of the association also fell from 100,000 to 78,000. Employees of the insurance companies have already inspected all of their clients' damaged properties, with the exception of smaller cases of flooded cellars or partially damaged weekend cottages. Insurance companies hope to cover the claims of most of their clients by the end of this year.
The Czech Defence Minister, Jaroslav Tvrdik, plans to send some 120 Czech soldiers to Afghanistan to take part in the international anti-terrorist operation 'Enduring Freedom'. The soldiers are to be members of a special forces unit and will be deployed on February 1st next year if the operation is given the green light from both government and parliament. The mission is not to exceed a period of four months. The defence minister expects to finance the operation by calling back most members of the Czech anti-chemical unit, currently in Kuwait, by the beginning of next year instead of in May 2003 as initially planned.
The Czech Republic will most likely close the economic chapter in EU accession talks at a conference in Brussels on Tuesday. According to Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Miroslav Somol, it will most probably be the only chapter that Czech representatives will discuss next week. Negotiation around the economic chapter was long and hard as both sides wanted their own terms regarding the reconstruction of the steel sector. The closing document of the chapter is expected to contain detailed conditions under which the Czech Republic is to go ahead with the restructuring.
Czech police have charged the manager of a night-club in Ostrava's Stodolni street with drug trafficking, saying he dealt in marijuana and hard drugs and sold narcotics directly on the premises and on the street. The man's wife is the owner of the club. Police say additional suspects may be charged in connection with the case in the coming days. If found guilty the accused, who is thirty-three-years-old, faces up to 10 years in prison. Stodolni street and its vicinity in the town of Ostrava, in the eastern part of the country, boasts about six dozen clubs, bars and restaurants; it is estimated that about 12,000 locals gather there at the weekends, making the area lucrative for illegal drugs trafficking.
The Spolana chemical plant in Neratovice near Prague has announced plans to bring its operations fully back to normal by mid-November, three months after devastating floods first hit the factory. The flooding lead to chemical spills of chlorine, dioxins, and mercury in the surrounding area. Before the plant can resume full operations it will still be necessary to renew electricity and heating throughout much of the factory. An independent investigation is currently underway to help prepare new safety and communications measures at the chemical plant.