The British deputy interior minister Beverley Hughes has revealed that new measures by British customs officials, aimed at reducing the chance of abuse of the asylum system, will reduce the likeliness of Great Britain reinstating mandatory visas for Czechs travelling to Britain. Mrs Hughes added that random checks of travellers at Prague's Ruzyne airport would continue. Mandatory visas have been applied by Great Britain to curb the flow of asylum seekers, many of them from the Roma community, in neighbouring Slovakia. However, it appears unlikely such measures would be taken in the case of the Czech Republic. British Interior Minister David Blunkett has recommended that ten EUcandidate countries, including the Czech Republic, be given 'safe' status, which would make it impossible for citizens from those countries to apply for political asylum.
The European Commission has released an important annual progress report on EU candidate countries, including the Czech Republic, rating ten countries' preparation for EU expansion in 2004, and two countries' preparation for accession in 2007. A thirteenth country, Turkey, was also evaluated, but has not yet been given the green light for accession talks to begin. Overall, in the progress report, the Czech Republic received a positive evaluation and praise for economic stability and reforms in the civil and judicial sectors, although there was serious criticism of corruption, economy-based crime, and discrimination against the Roma population. Wednesday the EU executive announced that member states should now wrap-up accession talks with the Czech Republic and nine other candidate countries in December, to pave the way for EU accession in 2004.
The authorities in Great Britain have deported another group of Czech asylum seekers. A plane carrying almost 50 Czechs denied asylum in Britain landed in Prague on Tuesday afternoon; it was the fourth such mass deportation in recent weeks. The number of Czechs seeking asylum in Britain - most of whom are Romanies - is constantly increasing, according to UK authorities. On Monday the British Home Secretary, David Blunkett, said that the Czech Republic was not a dangerous country and the vast majority of its citizens did not qualify for asylum in Britain. For their part, Romanies say they suffer violence and constant discrimination in the Czech Republic.
The European Commission believes that the 10 candidate countries recommended to join the European Union in 2004 will be able to withstand competitive economic pressure in the block. According to a copy of the draft report, made available to journalists, the Czech Republic can expect a generally positive evaluation this year. The European Commission is reportedly happy with the pace of reform, particularly reform of the judiciary and civil service, noting that the country has made excellent progress in making its legislation compatible with that of the EU. However, it is said to be concerned with the still high level of corruption and economic crime. The European Commission's progress report on candidate states is to be approved and published on Wednesday.
The Ministry of Labour and Social affairs is launching a new national plan
to fight long-term unemployment. It includes two new schemes called First
Chance and New Start. While the former will focus on fresh graduates, the
latter is aimed at other jobless people to prevent them from remaining
unemployed for more than 12 months. Other measures will support job creation
and entrepreneurial activities.
Unemployment in the Czech Republic has been growing over the past several months as a result of a slow-down of economic development and continuing restructuring of the industry. Experts say the main problem is high long-term unemployment in former coal-mining and heavily industrialised regions of North-Western Bohemia and North Moravia, and a relatively high unemployment of young people just after school. In 2003, the unemployment rate is expected to reach 9.9 percent.
The Civic Democratic Party of Vaclav Klaus has openly supported the head of
the commercial TV station NOVA, Vladimir Zelezny in his candidacy in the
upcoming senate elections. For several years, TV NOVA has been giving more
space to the Civic Democrats in its talk-shows than to other parties; the
party in turn supported Mr. Zelezny in his disputes with business partners.
Zelezny, who is 57, launched the successful TV station in 1994. His breaking from an American investor triggered a series of arbitration proceedings against the Czech Republic for failing to protect foreign investment. Zelezny himself has been charged with an attempt to cheat a creditor and with tax evasion.
The deputy president of the Czech police Miroslav Antl has resigned to his post. Mr. Antl had been drinking before causing a traffic accident in the east Bohemian town of Pardubice on Thursday. A breathalyser test proved that Mr Antl was over the limit when the crash occurred. Observers say Mr. Antls case could serve as a good example for Czech officials and politicians who usually do not even think of resigning after committing an offence.
The Czech police, who are investigating why the Pragues subway system was flooded during the August floods, discovered serious shortcoming in protective measures and construction. The police said that only two thirds of the pressure gates supposed to seal off the subway system were actually closed when the water arrived. Water also leaked through insufficiently sealed cable openings. In addition, it has come out that at several places, construction works were done in variance with the project so that the tunnels, designed to withstand a nuclear attack, broke under the pressure of thousands of tonnes of water. In all five cases, the faulty parts were constructed by the same company which may now face criminal prosecution.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia will closely cooperate in the defence area. Czech Minister of Defence Jaroslav Tvrdik said that after Slovakia joins NATO, military cooperation between the two former federal partners will be elevated to a completely different level. He cited joint air defence as one of the main areas of cooperation but said that possibilities were virtually unlimited. Slovakia is likely to be invited to join NATO at the alliances summit due to take place in Prague in November. Mr. Tvrdik visited Slovakia on Saturday to attend a solemn ceremony to commemorate the victims of World War Two battle of Dukla on the Slovak-Polish border.
The ruling Social Democrats are planning to present the electorate with a list of four names from which to choose the party's candidate for president, Health Minister Marie Souckova said on Friday. They are former prime minister Milos Zeman, ombudsman Otakar Motejl, former justice minister Jaroslav Bures and Charles University professor Martin Potucek. It is believed that the Social Democrats decided to allow the public to pick their presidential candidate because elements within the party feared that the outspoken Mr Zeman might win an internal party vote. The public vote will take place on October 22 and 25. The term of the current president, Vaclav Havel, ends in January, and his successor will be chosen by both houses of parliament.