A new opinion poll released on Wednesday shows that more than 60 percent of the Czech public support their country's entry to the European Union and are satisfied with NATO membership. The poll, carried out by the STEM agency in November, found that 64 percent of Czechs would vote for joining the EU in a referendum, while 68 percent supported NATO membership. The Czech Republic was admitted to NATO in March 1999, together with Poland and Hungary, and is among the 10 leading candidates for EU membership.
The Czech Republic has welcomed an offer of financial concessions to European Union candidates. The country's chief negotiator for EU entry, Pavel Telicka, described the offer as an improvement on previous proposals. However he added that his country would continue to fight for better entry terms before December's EU summit in Copenhagen. Denmark, which currently holds the revolving presidency of the EU, unveiled a plan on Monday to improve financial terms of accession for ten candidates expected to join in mid 2004. The plan was heavily criticised by several EU members including Germany.
A successor to Mr Havel will definitely be elected under the current parliamentary system, after a final bid to allow a direct vote failed on Wednesday. The lower house of parliament rejected a bill to introduce direct presidential elections in the first reading. A new president will be elected in a joint session of the two houses of parliament on January 15th. Mr Havel steps down on February 2nd, after twelve years in the post.
The general director of the country's monopoly telecom operator, Cesky Telecom, has been sacked, following the collapse of plans to privatise the company. General Director Premysl Klima was dismissed at a board meeting on Wednesday. The privatisation of Cesky Telecom, which controls most of the country's fixed lines and also the leading mobile operator Eurotel, was one of the few remaining sell-offs of the post-communist era. However the deal fell through on Tuesday, when potential investor Deutsche Bank failed to meet the share price demanded by TelSource, which holds a 27-percent stake in the company.
The Czech-born film director Karel Reisz, renowned for his critically acclaimed masterpiece "The French Lieutenant's Woman," has died in London at the age of 76. Mr Reisz, who came to England as a refugee from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, became one of the leaders of the New Wave in British-film making. Mr Reisz was one of the hundreds of children saved by the Nazis by the British diplomat Nicholas Winton, arriving in England at the age of 12. Towards the end of the war he flew as a pilot with the Royal Air Force.
The Czech Republic's chief negotiator on accession to the European Union, Pavel Telicka, has expressed satisfaction with an offer of increased finances to applicant countries put forward by Denmark, which currently holds the EU presidency. Mr Telicka described the offer as positive, but said the Czech Republic would still continue to fight for better accession terms between now and the mid-December Copenhagen EU summit. Germany and some other EU countries are opposed to the Danish proposals, which are aimed at appeasing farmers in candidate states. The Czech Republic is one of ten countries hoping to join the Union in 2004.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla visited Brussels on Monday to lobby for Czech interests. Mr Spidla first met his Belgian counterpart Guy Verhofstadt, then held talks with EU Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen, followed by a discussion with EU Commission President, Romano Prodi. With the EU commencing the debate on the precise financial conditions for admitting new countries, Mr Spidla's visit was the last chance to influence EU decisions on financing expansion at the highest political level. Speaking to journalists after his meeting with Mr Spidla, Mr Prodi said he was confident that the EU and the candidate countries would reach the necessary compromises before the EU summit in Copenhagen in December.
Prague is gradually returning to normal after the two day NATO summit
on Thursday and Friday. Traffic is again flowing normally through the
city, where many streets were cordoned off, and shops, which were
boarded up in anticipation of violent anti-NATO demonstrations are
gradually reopening. In the end the summit passed without serious
incident, and police officers, brought in from around the country are
now returning home.
The NATO summit witnessed the historic decision to invite a further seven countries to join the alliance, and for the first time the expansion is to include countries which were once part of the Soviet Union. NATO leaders also decided to create a rapid response force to be used in global anti-terrorist missions, and issued a statement backing UN efforts to disarm Iraq. The statement was cautiously worded and fell short of overtly endorsing military intervention. At talks on Friday NATO and Russia said they would continue in the path of cooperation set up in Rome six months ago.
The Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla will be in Brussels on Monday to lobby for Czech interests, just as the European Union begins debating the precise financial conditions that will apply after the next wave of applicants is admitted. At a series of meetings with EU and Belgian officials, including EU Commission President, Romano Prodi, Mr Spidla will be putting forward such Czech concerns as subsidies for the country's farmers and quotas for milk and beef exports. The Czech Republic's chief negotiator with the EU, Pavel Telicka, said that the visit was extremely well timed, as it would be the Czech Republic's last top-level opportunity to influence EU decisions on its finances after expansion. The country is widely expected to join the union in 2004.
Two men who disrupted a news conference concluding the NATO summit on Friday have been charged with breaching the peace. During NATO Secretary General George Robertson's closing speech, the men attempted to throw a tomato at Mr Robertson and shouted anti-alliance slogans in Russian. The two protestors were attending the summit as journalists. Both were released from police custody on Friday evening. Czech President Vaclav Havel apologised to Lord Robertson after the incident.
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