The senior partner in the ruling coalition, the Social Democratic Party,
have nominated former justice minister Jaroslav Bures as their candidate
for the upcoming presidential election to replace outgoing president
Vaclav Havel. Party leaders met on Saturday to choose from three
candidates who emerged from an internal party referendum - Jaroslav Bures,
former party chairman and prime minister Milos Zeman, and the ombudsman
Otakar Motejl. Mr. Bures came second in the referendum, after Milos Zeman
who later said he would run for president only if the parliament fails to
elect the president and new election has to be held.
So far, three other political parties have nominated their presidential candidates. The main opposition Civic Democrats have nominated outgoing party chairman and former premier Vaclav Klaus, the Communist Party's candidate is a former communist military prosecutor Miroslav Krizenecky, and the junior coalition Christian Democrats propose Senate chairman Petr Pithart.
Austrian opponents of the Czech Temelin nuclear power station have
threatened to stage a "permanent" blockade of the Czech-Austrian border
crossing at Wullowitz/Dolni Dvoriste. The blockade is to start on
Wednesday, December 11. Their goal is to achieve a re-opening of the
energy chapter prior to the EU summit in Copenhagen. They say if they
fail to receive a permit for the permanent blockade of the border
crossing from the authorities, they intended to go on a hunger strike.
Temelin, situated in south Bohemia, some 60km from the Austrian border, was put on-line in October 2000. It has been sharply criticised by both politicians and anti-nuclear activists in Austria and Germany who claim that it is unsafe due to its combination of Soviet and Western technology.
EU candidate countries that are members of the so-called Visegrad Four have agreed to stand united in the final negotiations with the EU at its summit to take place next week in Copenhagen. The summit will be decisive for EU expansion and the candidates still hope to achieve more favourable conditions regarding agricultural subsidies, transitional periods, and budgetary and financial issues. Representatives of the Visegrad Group countries, including the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary, met on Friday and Saturday to overcome a tension caused by the Poles last week who said they would prefer cash payments from EU budget in the first three years after entry to direct support for farming.
A civic initiative has launched a public petition in support of Otakar Motejl for President. Mr. Motejl, who is currently serving in the post of Ombudsman, was one of the proposed candidates of the Social Democratic Party but his chances dropped after he came in third in the party's referendum. Although the Czech president is not elected in a direct vote but by the two houses of Parliament a public opinion poll revealed that Mr. Motejl is the most popular candidate among Czechs. The Social Democrats are expected to officially name their candidate this weekend.
The presidency of the European Union has warned candidate countries that they risk setting back their entry date by years if they try to demand better accession terms at next week's Copenhagen summit. The Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a meeting with the French President Jacques Chirak in Paris that the EU had made ultimate concessions in its last offer and candidates should not demand the impossible. Three of the candidates -Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary- are still pushing for a better deal in accession talks and the last minute concessions proposed by Denmark still have to be approved by the governments of the other 14 member states. The Danish Prime Minister expressed confidence that the Copenhagen summit would be a historic success, despite the fact that some of the candidates are not entirely happy with the entry terms and that some EU member states feel that the Danish presidency has been too generous with its final offer.
An estimated 10,000 farmers have staged an angry demonstration in Prague against the European Union's plans to provide relatively low agricultural subsidies to new member countries. On Wednesday morning farmers pelted the Agriculture Ministry with eggs, beets, potatoes and tomatoes, breaking around two dozen windows. They also set fire to bales of straw and blocked the main gate to the ministry with piles of manure. No arrests were made. Agriculture Minister Jaroslav Palas said the demonstration was justified, but condemned the damage caused. The protest came just days before the Czech government was due to conclude an agriculture agreement as part of accession talks with the EU. The union plans to phase in farm subsidies in the Czech Republic and other candidate countries over several years, once they join in 2004.
The head of the European Commission's delegation to Prague, Ramiro Cibrian, has said new EU members can expect a rise in growth rates after they join the EU. Speaking at an economic forum in Prague, Mr Cibrian said economic growth could exceed 3 percent in the first years after accession, expected in 2004. Analysts expect economic growth in the Czech Republic to reach 2.5 per cent by the end of this year.
The European Union's Commissioner for Enlargement, Guenter Verheugen, has praised the settling of the dispute between the Czech Republic and Austria over the post-war Benes decrees. Addressing a lecture in Vienna on Tuesday, Mr Verheugen was quoted as saying the problem had now disappeared. The Benes decrees sanctioned the expulsion of around three million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia after the Second World War. The expulsion has been the source of tension with Austria in recent years, with some expellees calling for an apology and restitution of property. The two countries recently made progress towards settling the dispute.
Britain has deported another 39 Czech citizens after rejecting their requests for asylum. The group, all believed to be members of the Roma minority, was the seventh to arrive in Prague since Britain began deporting Czech asylum seekers in September. The British authorities say all asylum requests by Czech Roma will be turned down because the Czech government does not persecute its citizens. The Roma say they suffer discrimination and are frequently attacked by far-right skinheads.
During its session on Monday, the Czech government decided to raise the minimum monthly wage by 500 Czech crowns to 6,200 crowns as of January next year. The minimum wage was introduced in 1991 when it was set at 2,000 Czech crowns. In the Czech Republic it is less than 40 per cent of the average wage. Whilst some economists have warned that a higher minimum wage could lower labour productivity and increase unemployment, trade unions have welcomed the rise, arguing that it would force employers to utilise their workforce more efficiently.