An overwhelming majority of Prague citizens fear the protest demonstrations that are expected to take place during the NATO summit on November 21st and 22nd. Results of a public opinion poll released by the Prague School of International and Public Relations on Tuesday showed that some 80 percent of Prague citizens fear street rioting and 53 percent fear a possible terrorist attack. On the other hand, 58 percent also agreed to the summit being held in Prague. Opinion polls conducted over recent months have shown that fears of demonstrations and terrorist attacks in the Czech capital are on the rise as the NATO summit draws near.
The frontrunner candidates for EU membership, including the Czech Republic, will most probably join the European Union a few months later than expected. Instead of on January 1st 2004, the countries will most likely become EU members in the spring of 2004. Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen said that the exact date will depend on the time it will take to ratify the accession treaty. Since the treaty is expected to be several thousand pages long, current member states will not be pressured into speeding up their ratification. Mr Verheugen stressed, however, that the expansion process will have to be complete before the elections to the European Parliament in July 2004.
The first demonstration in the country against the NATO summit has been scheduled for this Saturday in the Moravian capital of Brno. Although only some 50 activists are expected to take part in the protest, Brno police have said that they are prepared to do what will be necessary to ensure order. The protest demonstration was called by the Organisation of Radical Anarchists with the aim to rally up support and lure protesters to Prague during the days of the summit next week.
Leading government officials have met with Czech farmers to try to convince them of the long-term benefits of joining the European Union. Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and Foreign Minster Cyril Svoboda addressed a gathering of over 1,000 farmers in south Bohemia on Monday in an effort to allay concerns about their future once the country joins the European Union. The Czech Republic is still negotiating the terms of the agriculture chapter of the accession agreement and Prime Minister Spidla promised the gathering that Czech farmers would get the best possible deal. Czech farmers say that if they feel that their livelihood would be threatened by EU accession they would try to convince people in their vicinity to vote against EU membership in the referendum next spring.
The U.S. President, George W. Bush, is expected to arrive in Prague on November 20th. This will be one day earlier than originally planned as Mr Bush wants to link the trip to Prague for the NATO summit with an official visit to the Czech Republic to meet with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel and Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla. Mr Bush will arrive with his wife Laura, and a delegation, which is to include U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld. Leading representatives from 19 NATO member states, about 2,000 delegates and some 3,000 journalists are expected to meet in Prague's Congress Centre for the NATO summit that will be held on November 21st to 22nd.
The agriculture commissioner for the EU Franz Fischler has urged Czech farmers to see the benefits of the Czech Republic joining the European Union. On Friday he stated that Czech farmers would benefit from EU enlargement in the long run, while defended the EU. Mr Fischler did acknowledge the hard work that Czech farmers have undertaken in restructuring the agriculture industry since the fall of communism, and assured Czech farmers the agriculture sector would earn more money after enlargement. But, farm leaders are saying that unless the EU sets equal subsidy levels for new and current member states, they will ask Czech farmers to vote against EU accession in a referendum next spring.
The lower house of the Czech parliament has approved a law allowing US warplanes to help guard the skies over the country during the NATO summit this month. The US government has agreed to deploy its fighters to ensure the security of the summit in Prague, which will be attended by US President George W. Bush and dozens of other heads of states. The bill, which has yet to be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the president, paves the way for up to 15 fighter jets to operate at any given moment in Czech airspace between November 15th and 30th. As many as 250 US soldiers will be allowed onto Czech territory for the deployment. The Prague summit will be NATO's first full meeting since the September 11th attacks on the United States. The US Air Force will join the biggest security operation conducted on Czech soil. Some 12,000 police and army personnel are preparing for the arrival of leaders from more than 40 countries.
Czech farmers staged a protest outside a Prague hotel on Thursday, where the agriculture ministers of ten EU candidate countries were meeting the EU commissioner for agriculture Franz Fischler. Some two hundred protestors were reported at the scene, some from neighbouring Slovakia. The farmers met Mr Fischler as well as the Czech Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas. Mr Fischler reiterated that he was bound by decisions agreed upon by the original 15 EU states. Czech farmers are worried that the European Commission's proposals for EU entry, including far lower subsidies for farming than in the original EU countries, would seriously hurt the agriculture sector.
The Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda has indicated that the Czech government may refuse Belarussian President Alexandr Lukashenko entry to the Czech Republic; the leader of the former-Soviet country applied for a visa in order to be able to attend November's NATO summit in Prague. In an interview with Czech Radio on Wednesday Foreign Minister Svoboda admitted that the government was hesitant over issuing an entry visa to Mr Lukashenko, on the grounds that his regime suppressed human rights; he added that cabinet ministers were also trying to gather information on the case of Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko, before reaching a decision - the opposition leader was detained in Minsk on Tuesday on possible charges of treason.
The Czech government has proposed June 15th and 16th , 2003, as the dates for a referendum that will decide the Czech Republic's accession to the European Union; the final decision on the day of voting now lies with President Vaclav Havel. The Czechs are one of ten candidate nations in final talks to join the EU in the first half of 2004. Entering the 15-nation bloc has been a top priority for many post-Communist countries like the Czech Republic; however, difficult negotiations concerning the conditions of entry, especially limitations of labour movement and farm subsidies, have lowered EU support among many citizens. The region's politicians have agreed to hold referenda in succession beginning with Hungary, where support is highest, in the hope that a positive results will influence anti-EU voters in other candidate countries, to reconsider their choice.